One of the big criticisms of the US global climate strategy is that, without the cooperation of emerging industrial nations like China, efforts in the US to cut back on carbon emissions will be inconsequential.
That is starting to change, and this week the US and China have announced they have reached an agreement on targeting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change in the post-2020 period.
After 2020, the United States will reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions, to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. In a release from the White House, “This goal is both ambitious and achievable, grounded in an intensive analysis of what actions can be taken under existing law, and will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction in the United States from the pre-2020 period. It also means the United States is doing its part to contain warming to 2 degrees Celsius, though achieving that global outcome will require global ambition and commitments from all economies.”
Chinese President Xi announced for the first time his intention to peak Chinese CO2 emissions around 2030, and further committed to make best efforts to peak early. China also announced a target of expanding the share of zero-emission sources in primary energy, namely renewables and nuclear, to 20% by 2030. To achieve that goal, China will have to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of zero-emission generation capacity by 2030, about the same as all their current coal-fired capacity and nearly as much as the total installed capacity in the U.S. energy sector today.
President Obama said he believes we have a moral obligation to take action on climate change, and that we cannot leave our children a planet beyond their capacity to repair. Over the last year, a spate of scientific studies have laid out the scope and scale of the challenge we face in the starkest of terms.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” says the U.S. National Climate Assessment. “Without additional mitigation efforts…warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes.
“There’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other,” President Obama said in September. “And that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”
In Copenhagen in 2009, President Obama pledged that the United States would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
The White House said, “We’re on track to meet that goal while growing the economy and creating jobs, thanks to the historic fuel economy standards enacted during the President’s first term; the measures to reduce carbon pollution, deploy more clean energy, and boost energy efficiency through the President’s Climate Action Plan; and the leadership demonstrated by a growing number of U.S. businesses, who have increased their investment in clean technologies and pledged to phase down the potent greenhouse gases known as HFCs.”
Nearly 20 years ago, as the Deputy Interior Secretary of the U.S. Interior Department, John Garamendi helped draft America’s position during the Kyoto Protocol climate change negotiations. Today, Congressman Garamendi, who represents Davis and much of Yolo County, said he is pleased to see America move forward with a groundbreaking climate change agreement between the world’s two leading contributors of greenhouse gas emissions: the United States and China.
“We need decisive action from our lawmakers to seriously address the climate crisis. Presently, far too many lawmakers willfully ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus. They are making the planet more dangerous for all of humanity,” Congressman Garamendi said in a release. “Today’s announcement of a climate change accord between the United States and China, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, is an important but incomplete step forward.”
“We must accept the reality that through our inaction, we are creating a planet with more extreme weather, more volatile food production, more dangerous infectious diseases, rising seas levels, and scarcer freshwater supplies,” Congressman Garamendi. “We should embrace the need for action as a moment to build the middle class through robust investments in American-made clean energy and conservation technologies and research, preparing our economy for the challenges of the future. What we can’t do is pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”
The new U.S. goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average during the 2005-2020 period to 2.3-2.8 percent per year on average between 2020 and 2025. The joint announcement marks the first time China has agreed to peak its CO2 emissions.
Congressman Garamendi’s office stated: “California’s 3rd District, which Congressman Garamendi represents, is an agricultural district that has been hard hit by the worst drought on record in California. While the drought has been driven by a lack of precipitation, the rapid melting of the Sierra snowpack, California’s largest freshwater reserve, has made the problem much worse. Climate change will only make the Sierra snowpack less reliable and available in the years to come, putting thousands of 3rd District jobs and billions of dollars of economic output at risk.
“The 3rd District is also a leader in clean energy development, epitomized by the wind turbine farm in Rio Vista and cutting-edge environmental research at UC Davis in transportation, lighting, agriculture, and other areas.
“Congressman Garamendi has long been focused on climate science and clean energy. As a State Legislator, he authored the first state alternative energy tax credit in America. He is the author of H.R. 1524, the Make It In America: Create Clean Energy Manufacturing Jobs in America Act, which would create U.S. jobs by ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent on American-made renewable energy systems, including solar, wind, geothermal, and biofuels. Phased over a four year period, the bill requires the federal government and any state government buying renewable technologies with federal funds to purchase renewable sources of energy grown, produced, or manufactured with 85 percent American content.”
John Podesta, the President’s science advisor, writes, “Today in Beijing, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies — and the world’s two biggest emitters — stood together and committed to tackling that threat head-on. If other leaders follow suit, if more businesses step up, if we keep our level of ambition high, we can build the safer, cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous world future generations deserve.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting