US and China in new carbon pact; trading seen

Following weeks of secret negotiations, the US and China on Nov. 12 announced a new agreement to reduce greenhouse gas output. Under the pact, the US seeks to reduce emissions up to 28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. This new goal is up from a previous target to cut emissions 17% by 2020, from 2005 levels. China did not set a specific target, but said CO2 emissions would peak by 2030. That year was also set by China for a 20% increase in the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption. The agreement marks the first time that China, now the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged to cap its emissions. The two countries together produce about 45% of the world's carbon dioxide, although the US produces far more than China in per capita terms. 

In their joint statement, issued at the APEC summit in Beijing, presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping said, "Both sides intend to continue to work to increase ambition over time." The two sides have already established the US-China Climate Change Working Group and US-China Clean Energy Research Center, and agreed on a joint peer review of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies under the auspices of the G-20.

The two leaders also pledged to work together to adopt a new global pact under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the UN climate conference in Paris in 2015. Currently, 195 governments are parties to the Climate Change Convention and 192 are parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which the new global agreement is intended to replace. UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres called the China-US announcement "clear leadership" ahead of this year's UN Conference of the Parties conference set for Lima, Peru, in December. Governments are expected to agree on a draft global agreement in Lima that can be finalized in Paris in 2015. (BBC News, Jurist, Nov. 12; ENS, Nov. 11)

China is meanwhile moving ahead with a new carbon market, following the US and European Union in pursuing this approach to reducing emission. Beijing and six other jurisdictions launched pilot carbon trading systems within the last 18 months. China's pilot programs combined already constitute the second largest carbon market after the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). DC-based think-tank Resources for the Future (RFF) just issued a report on the three longest-running programs likely to serve as models for a national program in China. "The pilots in Guangdong, Shanghai and Shenzhen have made significant progress in building a cap-and-trade market," RFF stated. "Some aspects of pilot designs represent a deft tailoring of a fundamentally market-based instrument to a socialist market economy. Yet potential design deficiencies remain." (Ecosystem Marketplace, Oct. 22)

A deal to save the planet —or to wreck it?

The Campaign Against Climate Change asks of the new US-China climate pact: "Anything the Republicans attack has to be good. Right? No. In fact it is an appalling deal." The account notes that 2005, by which cuts are to be measured, was the highest year ever for US emissions.Worse, even if the US and China cut emissions in half, they would still be increasing the amount of CO2 in the air each year. Instead, they are increasing the amount of CO2 they put in the air each year. (Presumably due to China's projected 2030 peak.) But the statement find it's even worse. "After another fifteen years of increased emissions, we will have to cut even more deeply to get back where we started. Even if they reduce emissions as fast as they increased them, we will only get back to the current level of emissions some time after 2040. And where we are now is, everyone agrees, unacceptable." Additionally, nothing in the pact is binding.