In the recent U.S-China climate deal, who snookered whom? Let’s first review what happened and place it in historical context.
Two weeks ago, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a Joint Agreement on Climate and Clean Energy Cooperation designed to “inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.”
In the past, China had rejected U.S. and EU proposals to adopt legally-binding emission limitations, and demanded that industrialized nations make deep emission cuts and pony up billions of dollars (as much as 1.5% of their combined GDP annually) to help developing countries adapt to climate change.
Without formally repudiating those negotiating positions, Xi pledged that China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would peak by 2030, and he did not condition that commitment on U.S. financial assistance to developing countries. (Although Xi likely knew that, three days later, at the Nov. 14 G-20 Summit in Australia, Obama would pledge $3 billion in climate assistance for poor countries.)
President Obama, for his part, pledged that America would cut its CO2 emissions 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. That goes beyond the President’s 2009 Copenhagen treaty proposal to cut U.S. CO2 emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.
Some critics conclude that Xi outfoxed Obama, because, under the Joint Agreement, U.S. emissions must begin to decline immediately whereas China’s don’t have to plateau until 14 years after Obama leaves office. Some also argue that Xi simply promised to do what China intends to do anyway.
China’s target to expand total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030 is notable. It will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.
Last Friday, Bloomberg News published an analysis confirming the colossal scale of China’s commitment under the Joint Agreement.