The toxic fog has begun to clear as Chinese Officials have agreed to curb carbon emissions. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged last Wednesday to reduce carbon emissions over the next twenty years to initiate global talks to battle climate change.
Together China and the U.S. account for about 40 percent of the world’s emissions, and until now, China has avoided agreeing to a plan to control its carbon emissions. Officials in both countries have previously pointed the finger at one another to delay taking action at home. This agreement will hopefully end the accusations of weak performance between the two countries to pressure Brazil, India and other large developing economies to create conclusive plans to limit emissions. Although this agreement is a critical step in changing worldwide energy policy, it is unclear how each country will achieve such ambitious goals given current energy demands and political opposition.
Obama said the U.S. would cut its 2005 level emissions 26 percent by 2025, accelerating the pace of reductions already planned through 2020. It roughly doubles the pace of carbon reductions in the period from 2020 to 2025 as compared to the period from 2005 to 2020. This new pledge puts us in line with our goal to have reduced emissions by 80 percent in 2050. Xi said his country would attempt to stop the rise of carbon dioxide emissions by around 2030. China is also trying to get around a fifth of its energy supply from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.
The White House said the target “is grounded in intensive analysis of cost-effective carbon pollution reductions achievable under existing law,” which is fortunate considering, that after last week’s midterm elections, we are not likely to see any new climate legislation coming out of Capitol Hill. Republican senator Jim Inhofe, the likely incoming chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has actually vowed to use his position to hamper energy and climate policy. Without legislation can we even hope to achieve measurable change in pollution? Without the plans in place for how we are going to expand nuclear, solar or wind energies the targets are purely symbolic. Although the pledge appears to be another lofty publicity stunt, it has given green business a fighting chance.
“It’s a game-change on two fronts: It’s a diplomatic breakthrough and a huge boost to the clean-energy market,” said Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund. Clean energy is proving to be big business for developed countries. Obama would not be proposing new emissions goals if he believed they would slow economic growth. The coal industry is not sustainable and the jobs created through the emerging alternative energy market have the potential to greatly outnumber those in the coal industry.
Even if the U.S. and China’s plans are not as ambitious as we might have hoped for, the world’s two largest carbon emitters are stepping up together with serious commitments. Regardless of what may motivate Obama’s push for cleaner energy, I sincerely hope that our next president continues to stress energy autonomy and environmental consciousness, rather than repealing the meager progress we have already made.