"Make it a race to the top": Reaction to US-China climate deal

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 12 Nov 2014 13:19, Last updated: 2014-11-12
Response to the US-China climate agreements
Response to the US-China climate agreements

The new measures announced by the Governments of China and the United States in addressing their greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades is a positive step towards achieving a more comprehensive accord at a global climate conference to be held in Paris next year, top United Nations officials have confirmed.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the “significant and timely announcement” – pronounced by US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the tail-end of a high-level meeting in Beijing – and thanked the two leaders for their “personal commitment to work together to remove any impediments to reaching an agreement in Paris.”

“China and the United States have demonstrated the leadership that the world expects of them,” said Mr. Ban, in a statement.

“This leadership demonstrated by the Governments of the world’s two largest economies will give the international community an unprecedented chance to succeed at reaching a meaningful, universal agreement in 2015.”

In their announcement, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies and the biggest greenhouse gas emitters declared they would aim for a considerable reduction in their emissions within a post-2020 framework.

The US, for instance, said it would reduce its emissions by a range of between 26 per cent and 28 per cent by 2025 from its 2005 levels in order to achieve what it described as economy-wide reductions on the order of 80 per cent by 2050. For its part, China announced it would peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030—with the intention to try and peak early—including through a far greater role for renewable energies and big improvements in areas like energy efficiency.

The joint statement comes in the wake of the European Union’s announcement to cut emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 which it made last month.

The world’s efforts to clamp down on climate change will converge on Paris at the end of 2015 as Member States gather at the 21st annual session of the UN Climate Change Conference with the ultimate goal being the formulation of a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change, in line with the second implementation phase of the landmark Kyoto Protocol.

With the “positive commitments” made by Government, business, finance, and civil society leaders at the Climate Summit at UN Headquarters in September, followed by the “ambitious decision” taken by European Union leaders on their post-2020 emission reduction target in October, Mr. Ban voiced hope that “the highly significant” joint announcement by China and the United States would lay “a strong foundation” and build momentum towards a meaningful climate agreement in 2015.

As a result, his statement concluded, the Secretary-General urged “all countries, especially all major economies, to follow China and the United States’ lead and announce ambitious post-2020 targets as soon as possible, but no later than the first quarter of 2015.”

The dangers posed by climate change have been characterized as being increasingly imminent by a number of UN agencies and officials. In its recent Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in fact, confirmed that climate change is being registered around the world and warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Since the 1950s many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.

Greeting the announcement by China and the US in a separate statement, Christiana Figueres, Executive Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), suggested that both leaders had cleared “important pathways towards a better and more secure future for human-kind.”

“This joint announcement provides both practical and political momentum towards a new, universal climate agreement in Paris in late 2015 that is meaningful, forward-looking and recognizes that combating climate change is not a five or ten year plan—but is a long term commitment to keep a global temperature rise under 2 degrees throughout this century,” Ms. Figueres declared.

“This positive momentum opens the door for all major economies and in particular all other industrialized nations to bring forward their contributions to the Paris agreement in a timely fashion over the coming months. Investors have long called for policy certainty,” she continued.

“Today’s announcement is a firm and positive step towards that as we look towards Paris 2015.”

Parties to the UNFCCC will next meet in Lima, Peru in a few weeks’ time to advance a draft universal agreement with the aim of adopting it at the 21st Conference of the Parties taking place in Paris, France at the end of next year.

Fellow political leaders and commentators see the announcement as a potential game-changer that could boost the chances of a global climate deal in Paris next year. It also sends a clear signal that the two biggest emitters are ready for the transition to a low carbon future.

The UK's Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: "“These climate announcements from the US and China are a clear sign that major economies are serious about getting a global deal in Paris next year.

“The UK led the drive to achieve an ambitious new EU target, and others are now following the EU’s lead and putting targets on the table.

“I’m looking forward to discussing with the US and China how we can achieve our shared goal of keeping the global temperature rise under 2 degrees, and avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change.”

In a joint statement by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, the pair welcomed the news.

They said: “We welcome the announcement today by the Presidents of the United States and China on their respective post-2020 actions on climate change. This comes ahead of the G20 Summit in Brisbane, and well in advance of the Conference of the Parties 21 in Paris next year.

“This announcement shows that the call by EU Leaders on 24 October to other countries to come forward quickly with their intended greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets is being answered.

“The European Union agreed in October ambitious targets for 2030 with a legally binding reduction of CO2 emissions of at least 40%, increases of renewable energy and energy efficiency of at least 27% and a boost of the internal European energy market through a boost of interconnection. The announcements to date cover around half of the global emissions.

“We urge others, especially the G20 members, to announce their targets in the first half of 2015 and transparently. Only then we can assess together if our collective efforts will allow us to fulfil the goal of keeping global temperature increases well below 2 degrees Celsius.

“The EU expects these targets to be part of a longer range effort to transition to low carbon economies. Now it will be important to maintain the level of ambition and aim for a credible and durable global climate agreement in Paris next year.

“In the multilateral UN negotiation process, Lima is the next milestone and we look forward to engaging with all our partners. The clock is ticking. It's time to move to action.”

However, Friends of the Earth International Energy Campaigner Asad Rehman explained: "This isn’t the major breakthrough the planet needs.

"The US pledge represents at most a woeful 15% cut on 1990 levels - a weaker target even than that promised by Obama in Copenhagen in 2009. Much greater ambition is needed to stop the worst impacts of climate change.

"If everyone follows the US approach then poorer countries will have to take on even greater efforts, without any support from rich nations to avoid the threat of catastrophic climate change.

"China’s intention to peak its emissions in the next fifteen years is certainly welcome news, but only in the context of a global deal based on science and fairness that delivers the urgent help developing nations need to cope with the severe threat global warming poses."

Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, said: “Barack Obama and Xi Jinping deserve recognition for their climate leadership. Not only are the two biggest polluters taking new and unprecedented commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they're announcing them together. It shows that both countries recognize their individual responsibilities and the importance of their joint leadership on climate.

“This is the news that many governments and businesses have been waiting for. It will help create the confidence for other national governments to follow suit and implement the measures needed to avert runaway climate change. It will give business the direction and certainty it needs to scale up clean energy and energy efficiency, and send the right price signals to drive investment in low carbon technologies.

“With the EU announcement two weeks ago, three of the five largest emitters have now made emission reduction commitments and I hope it’ll inspire other major emitters.”

Changhua Wu, Greater China Director of The Climate Group, said: “Today’s announcement that China’s emissions would peak by 2030 at the latest is an unprecedented recognition of China’s responsibilities on the world stage when it comes to climate change. It’s the first time that China – or any emerging economy – has committed to an emissions target.

“The US-China joint approach could help bridge the ‘developed versus developing’ countries divide that has long weakened the international climate negotiation process. This could be a game-changer that significantly boosts the chances of reaching a global climate deal in Paris next year.

“China was known to be the biggest carbon emitter. Today could mark the beginning of a genuine transition for China to a low carbon development and deep emissions reductions, proving to the rest of the world that investing in clean energy need not stem economic development.”

Evan Juska, Head of US Policy at The Climate Group, added: “Barack Obama’s commitment to reduce emissions by 26-28% by 2015, compared to 2005 levels, although it falls short of what the science requires, shows that the US hasn’t given up on its ambition to be a global climate leader.

"The new target, which means that the US will double the pace of its emission reductions, sends a strong signal to the markets that the US is ready for the transition to a low carbon future.”

Andrew Steer, President & CEO, World Resources Institute, commented: “It’s a new day to have the leaders of the US and China stand shoulder-to-shoulder and make significant commitments to curb their country’s emissions.

“They have both clearly acknowledged the mounting threat of climate change and the urgency of action. It’s heartening to see this level of cooperation, with climate change at the top of the agenda for the world’s top emitters.

“The US and China should be commended for putting their initial pledges on the table so early. This should inject a jolt of momentum in the lead up to a global climate agreement in Paris.

“The US target shows a serious commitment to action and puts the country on a path to reduce its emissions around 80 percent by mid-century. This pledge is grounded in what is achievable under existing US law. However, we should not underestimate the potential of innovation and technology to bring down costs and make it easier to meet - or even exceed - the proposed targets.

“China’s pledge to increase non-fossil fuel energy and peak emissions around 2030 as early as possible is a major development—and reflects a shift in its position from just a few years ago. But it will be very important to see at what level and what year their emissions peak. Analysis shows that China’s emissions should peak before 2030 to limit the worst consequences of climate change.”

Jennifer Morgan, Director, Climate Program, WRI, added: “Make no mistake, more needs to be done. The US and China should strive to achieve the upper range of their commitments and go even further in the future. They can raise the bar to take full advantage of the economic opportunities of a low-carbon future.

“A growing body of evidence shows that climate action can bring economic benefits and new opportunities. International cooperation, around the CERC and other areas, can help unlock even greater levels of ambition.

“The US and China should make it a race to the top, catalyzing other countries to announce their targets and build momentum leading up to Paris. Today's announcement is a big step in that direction.”

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