Four compelling reasons to be hopeful about the U.S. China Climate Agreement
It is no secret that the United States and China, the two largest national emitters of global carbon emissions, have fallen short in their efforts to address climate change over the past decade. Things, however, just got interesting. Only one week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its daunting report, leaders of the U.S. and China announced a breakthrough, non-binding bilateral agreement aimed at decreasing carbon emissions over the next several decades. While some critics have been quick to dismiss the importance of the deal, the possible implications of the effort cannot be underestimated. Borrowing from Obama’s quintessential campaign phrase—change—here are four reasons the accord may spur change in the global climate change arena:
The non-binding agreement is a symbolic commitment that illustrates that climate change is a priority issue
In the agreement, among other commitments, the U.S. aims to reduce U.S. emissions by 26%-28% of its 2005 level by 2025. Likewise, China intends to peaks its emissions by 2030. According to scientists and critics alike, these targets merely go a bit beyond or reinstate previously announced targets made domestically by the two leaders. Nevertheless, even if the commitments recycle or marginally exceed existing commitments the US and China have made domestically, the effort is symbolic of the two powers willingness to move the ball forward and find commonalties that were not previously known.
The agreement will spur momentum in global climate negotiations
The bilateral accord could serve as the critical tipping point in the lead up to and finalization of a new legally binding multilateral agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015. At the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, the U.S. and China, along with a few other countries were the nations to watch. Not only did they negotiate the final deal, but it was clear that all other chess pieces would lie dormant until these nations made a move. One can only hope that a new international climate agreement will go far beyond the commitments in the US-China deal but at least climate negotiators can let out a little exhale that the U.S. and China may come to the table in Lima next month and Paris next year with more latitude than ever before.
Serve as a tool for the Obama-led administration against climate critics in Congress.
Both Congress and U.S. industry have consistency lobbied against international climate initiatives often citing China as a reason to resist action. Lawmakers and climate opponents have long argued that the U.S. shouldn’t take steps to further reduce our carbon footprint if other nations, such as China and India are unwilling to act. As U.S. Senator Menendez wrote in response to news of the historic agreement, “the Obama Administration’s work to secure this agreement signals that China can no longer be used as an excuse to not act on global warming.” Climate opponents may now have to busy themselves trying to refute the science rather than lobby arguments against a response based on others’ inaction.
Illustrates that in the lead up to a new internationally binding agreement, gains may be best made bi-laterally or unilaterally
Since the climate deal between US and China was announced, the internet has been abuzz trying to forecast how the US-China deal with pressure other countries into action. Peter Christoff, in his November 12th blog, states that the agreement “increases the pressure on Australia to bring substantial target commitments to the table in Paris in 2015…” Similarly, climate advocates and politicians in Canada are already using the gains made by the U.S. and China to pressure action at home. The former head of the federal Round Table on the Environment and Economy, David McLaughlin, said in an interview,“[i]t puts real pressure on Canada to up its climate game.” Likewise, the US-China success story is also being utilized to pressure other countries into action. For India, a country that has been in a long-standing dialogue with the US on climate change, a new deal on climate change that builds upon past smaller deals could be what’s next.