Climate Deal 2015

Seizing the US-China climate moment

The U.S. and China have announced new targets to reduce carbon emissions, setting a new tone for global climate politics. Obama set a new pledge to cut U.S. emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. China is committing to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, if not earlier, and to increase its share of non-fossil fuel energy to 20%. The implications of the new pledges go far beyond these two countries, not because these measures save the climate – they don’t – but because their actions shift the political pathway closer to a global climate deal next year. This deal could be an amplifier of action by business, city leaders and citizens.

So here is a first reaction to the announcement.

A new tone: The U.S. and China have made a point of telling the world they are agreeing to curb their countries’ emissions. This is a commanding signal. Neither one of them denies the threat of climate change and both argue the case for action, insisting to move forward.

A global deal is on: The U.S. and China are putting their initial pledges on the table earlier than some had expected. This announcement will build momentum in the negotiations of a climate agreement in Paris in December 2015. More high-level engagement will be necessary among countries prior to Paris: the politics of climate change need to be handled as part of wider bilateral economic and political agendas —and less as a stand-alone issue. We need more countries to have their own agendas in order to raise momentum for Paris.

De-carbonization: Avoiding dangerous climate change is likely to require China to peak its emissions before 2030. China´s statement to peak its carbon emissions by around 2030, if not sooner, would have been unthinkable a few years back. Also by agreeing to increase its share of non-fossil fuel energy, and given the size of its economy, China is sending a powerful signal in favor of renewable energy. The U.S. pledge (to reach 26-28% reductions by 2025—double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020) is based on what the Obama administration can achieve under American law. Yet, this is too a powerful signal: the U.S. is on a path to lower emissions around 80% by 2050.

China’s target will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 GW of non-fossil fuel energy capacity by 2030 – “ more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States”.

G20, time to act: Other G20 countries, including those in the developing world, might also need to rethink their reasons for not acting. This is the time to leave behind the self-serving “North versus South” framing of the past century. And yet this new tone should be a warning to other developed countries, especially the governments of Canada and Australia: Can they sustain their bet on climate inaction and fossil fuels when the two single largest emitters in the world are making the opposite headlines?

Republicans watch out: Some lawmakers could try to derail Mr. Obama’s initiatives, undermining the United States’ ability to meet the new reduction targets. And yet Republicans need to be careful: As they try to win the 2016 presidential election, they will realize that voters do support a clean energy economy. New research shows that even a majority of Republicans support renewable energy and it is no wonder they are increasingly split on how they handle climate politics and clean energy .

The US and China have also agreed to other activities (see statement below). I highlight three elements that are essential for our climate and energy debate in Latin America and our own interaction with China (fellow Costa Ricans, be aware):

  • Energy-Water Nexus : They expand joint clean energy research and development by launching a new track on the interaction of energy and water (the energy/water ‘nexus’).
  • Low-Carbon Cities Initiative : They will share city-level experiences with planning, policies, and use of technologies and will convene a bilateral Summit in order to share best practices and “celebrate city-level leadership”.
  • Demonstrate Clean Energy on the Ground : The U.S. will undertake new pilot programs, and studies to promote China’s energy efficiency and renewable energy targets. This includes a joint private sector commercial agreement on a 380 MW concentrating solar plant in China.

Upward spiral

A few weeks ago, the EU also announced a target to reduce its emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Smaller middle-income economies are adopting commitments as well. Chile, for example, approved a carbon tax this year. The stunning pace of adoption of renewable energy in the developing world has been recorded in many studies, Climatescope 2014 being the latest one of them.

Existing pledges and low-carbon investments do not guarantee climate security – and slow execution of these actions is expected. But here is the difference with the world in 2009 when countries last tried to get a climate deal: Blocking climate action and renewables is getting harder. Top quality evidence of economic benefits and business opportunities accruing from actions to reduce emissions and to increase renewable energy will make this even more difficult. The New Climate Economy report is the latest example. And the impacts of climate inaction have a visibility that was lacking a few years back.

We need to carry out much more engagement with the public, engage each country, and find better ways to get our governments to make decarbonization of development a political priority. In the context of the global climate negotiatons, we need our governments to table their commitments post 2020 and by March 2015.

Nowhere is this more urgent than in the developing world. In our countries, decarbonization is the best way to boost development of the right kind. Ensuring climate security will require all countries to act, big and small, powerful or not. Now that China and the U.S. have switched to a helpful tone, we have no time to waste in getting our own leaders to also up their game.

Here is a link to the "U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation "

Monica Araya is the Founder and Director of Nivela and of Costa Rica Limpia. You can follow her on Twitter @MonicaArayaTica

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