China today

Sino-US climate change deal may shift agenda for developing states

2014-11-19 17:37:21 (Beijing Time)         Global Times


For a long time, international climate change negotiations have been marred by a lack of consensus on several fronts, particularly the emission reduction targets for individual countries. This stalemate has been partially overcome by the recent agreement reached by the US and China, which are responsible for 40 percent of the world's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The agreement, signed by US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, states that the US would reduce its emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels, by 2025. China has agreed not only to cap emissions by 2030, but also to produce 20 percent of its energy using non-fossil fuels by the same year.

As far as the US is concerned, after years of criticism for not adopting any legally binding emission reduction targets, this step has come a year ahead of the crucial Paris climate summit in 2015, where the international community is hopeful of reaching an agreement to be enforced by 2020. This target is far beyond its previous target of cutting GHG emissions by 17 percent by 2020. However, the road ahead is not easy for Obama.

The Republicans were quick to slam the agreement. They claimed that this would give considerable leeway to China to emit as much as it wanted until 2030, while the US would have to resort to economically unviable measures to meet those steep targets.

On the contrary, China has in fact agreed to change its current course of growth in a much bigger way than anything the US is already doing, even though US emissions are already reportedly 10-15 percent below 2005 levels and falling by about 1.5 percent annually.

China, which has also been criticized since the Copenhagen summit in 2009 for blocking the international process, has decided to play the role of a responsible global player. For China, it is not just a question of international image, but also of fighting increasing pollution levels that have wracked socioeconomic havoc in its cities in the past few years.

Industrialized countries like Canada and Australia have always argued that until and unless the world's largest emitters took any concrete steps toward reducing emissions, neither would they. Now that this has happened, would they also join the bandwagon? Not really.

Even though both Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have welcomed the US-China climate agreement, it has been made amply clear by them that they don't want their continued economic growth to be hampered by emission reduction schemes. So much so that before the start of the G20 summit in Brisbane, Abbott even stated that the summit's focus should be on economic reforms rather than climate change.

Major developing economies like India and Brazil are now under pressure to raise their levels of commitment in the same vein as China. India and China have generally been on the same side of the climate negotiations' table and the US-China agreement clearly de-links them now.

India has yet to come up with an "intended" goal of cutting GHG emissions before the Paris summit. Former special envoy of the prime minister on climate change Shyam Saran has pointed out that if China had agreed to peak its emissions in 2030, then India could agree to do the same 15-20 years after 2030, taking into account India's aggregate and per capita emissions that are far lower than that of China.

The US-China climate agreement may not fully take into account the urgency of the issue. It has set only a low benchmark for the rest of the world to follow, but it nevertheless sets the tone for the make-or-break global climate negotiations at the Paris climate summit next year.