U. S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a commitment by both countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions by 2025-30, at the end of the APEC summit meeting in China on Wednesday. President Obama pledged that the United States would reduce it emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, while President Xi pledged that China’s emissions would peak by “around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the share of non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20% by 2030.” That quote is from the White House fact sheet on the agreement.
The Obama Administration’s long-stated goal has been to reduce emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. That works out to an annual cut of 1.2% from 2005 onward. The new goal would require a much faster rate of cuts. The White House calculated that if the faster rate doesn’t begin until 2020, then the annual cut would work out to 2.3-2.8% from 2020 to 2025.
It is not clear what President Xi’s commitment means, but President Obama’s signature on the deal has no legal force. And it will be up to future Presidents and Congresses after he leaves office in January 2017 to decide whether to require the emissions reductions agreed to.
Leaders of the official climate establishment quickly claimed that the U. S.-China agreement will provide new momentum to the international negotiations on a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which will continue at the annual United Nations climate conference in December in Lima. A new international agreement is supposed to be signed at the next UN conference scheduled for December 2015 in Paris.
Here for example is what former Senator Timothy Wirth said in a written statement: “Today’s announcement is the political breakthrough we’ve been waiting for…. If the two biggest players on climate are able to get together, from two very different perspectives, the rest of the world can see that it’s possible to make real progress.” Wirth is the vice chairman of Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation and served as Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs during the Clinton Administration, where he prepared the groundwork for the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
However, it doesn’t appear that there is much that is new in the agreement. The Reuters story by David Stanway reporting from the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) summit in Beijing got it right in the headline: “China, US agree limits on emissions, but experts see little new.”
For China, the targets add little to its existing commitments to wean itself off carbon, environmental experts said. ‘The statement is an upbeat signal to motivate other countries, but the timeline China has committed to is not a binding target,’ said Li Junfeng, an influential Chinese climate policy adviser linked to China’s state planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.
There is also the little obstacle of Congress. Republicans take control of the Senate in January. Majorities in both the House and Senate will be opposed to the Obama Administration’s climate agenda. It seems certain that they will be even more opposed to the new 26% cut by 2025 goal than they are to the 17% by 2020 goal. My guess is that there will be votes on a resolution disavowing President Obama’s new commitments in both the House and Senate early in the 114th Congress.
That would complicate the State Department’s plans to announce its commitments that will be part of the Paris accord by the end of March. In fact, if the House and Senate do disavow the deal with China, it would be a major international embarrassment to President Obama and would be a severe blow to the chances for a significant agreement in Paris in December 2015.