Thursday, 13 November 2014

The U.S.-China Climate Deal

Everybody, even people disinterested in the environment, has heard by now: President Obama announced a bilateral agreement between the United States and China for the United States to reduce emission 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and China will peak its emissions by 2030. Those are the central pieces of the deal. There is also agreement to jointly pursue carbon capture and sequestration, funding for a new US-China energy research center, and other feel-goodies, but clearly something that speaks directly to emissions is the big deal.

Mitch McConnell and fellow Kentuckian Ed Whitfield proved again why the Republican Party deserves our scorn, by simply dismissing the deal because it was struck by Obama. If Obama's for it, then Republicans are agin' it. McConnell said that the deal "requires China to do nothing for 16 years." That is true. Of course, the alternative is no deal at all, as if McConnell expects China to cap emissions tomorrow. Rep. Ed Whitfield from Kentucky snarked, "Everyone who's ever dealt with China knows that they've made all kinds of commitments." That's Ed Whitfield, the noted Sinophile. As a more thoughtful commentator pointed out, what matters more is the level at which China peaks than when it peaks. Importantly, though, a 2030 peak will likely keep China below a BAU baseline. It also represents a step in that China is moving away from an intensity target -- which is no cap at all -- to a mass-based cap.

Everyone who reads the newspaper understands the inherent caution and conservatism of Chinese foreign policy, which is driven by the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, the real decisionmaker, and which makes decision by consensus and under strict Chatham House rules. Policy changes slowly in China. There will be next step, and it will be the specification of an absolute cap, a "how much" and not just a "when."

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