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November 15, 2014

China Climate Agreement a First for Developing Nations
    by Robert Kropp

In agreement with US, China commits to emissions reductions for the first time. But as a Natural Resources Defense Council report points out, the nation will have to make significant strides in reducing emissions from its ports and shipping systems. -- Earlier this week, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement under which both the US and China—the world's two largest economies as well as the largest emitters of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—will reduce emissions and increase their reliance on renewable energy.

The agreement marks the first time that China has committed to a reduction in GHG emissions. The world's largest emitter pledged that its emissions will peak by 2030 and that 20% of its energy will come from renewable sources by then. The US has committed to decreasing its 2005 level of emissions by up to 28% by 2025; given that the recent midterm elections in the US will embolden climate denialism in the Republican majority even further, it is likely that Obama will have to resort to executive action to contribute to climate change mitigation responsibly.

Noting that the deal represents the first time that a developing nation has agreed to reduce emissions, the the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) observed of its rejection by Congressional climate deniers, “The only thing that’s clear is that their resistance to addressing climate change was never really about China.”

“The significance of this cooperation should not be underestimated,” CDP stated. “While not as ambitious as the recent EU announcement to reduce emissions 40% by 2030, together these announcements help create substantive momentum for a global climate deal to be agreed in Paris next year.”

Describing the agreement as “an unprecedented act of collaboration,” the sustainable investor network Ceres added, “The US-China announcement provides a new stimulus for low carbon investments. The more certainty policymakers provide, the more confidently companies can invest – and continue to unleash a wave of innovation in low carbon technologies: creating new products and services, generating employment, reducing energy consumption and increasing savings.”

However, “China and the US can both do more,” according to Climate Action Network (CAN). “China can, for example, work to peak its coal consumption by 2020, while the US can put money on the table at the Green Climate Fund pledging conference next week, allowing developing countries to boost their own action.”

Furthermore, while China's commitment to mitigation is certainly a welcome development, the nation has a long way to go to decouple its economy from a reliance on fossil fuels, especially coal. As recently as this past summer, the China Greentech Initiative reported, “Northern China’s air pollution in the winters of 2013 and 2014 triggered a chain of trend-setting events: a surge in hospital admissions related to respiratory illness, a storm of public opinion on social media platforms, and a hike in demand for transparent air quality data.”

And last month, a report from NRDC found that “China’s largely unregulated ports and shipping system generate significant air pollution that imposes a huge health and environmental burden and contributes to the country’s over 1 million pollution-related deaths each year.”

“As the world’s top trading nation, China has an enormous imperative and opportunity to demonstrate bold trade leadership that respects human health and the environment,” Barbara Finamore of NRDC said. “By embracing 21st century port and shipping emissions control systems, China can clean up its air pollution while enabling sustainable shipping industry growth for decades to come.”

In September, China announced that it will establish a national emissions trading scheme that it intends to launch in 2016. When the national market is launched in China, it will be by far the largest carbon market in the world.

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