WASHINGTON DC, United States – The United Nations hailed the announcement by the United States and China of plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, saying it boosted efforts to reach a make-or-break climate change agreement next year.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon commended Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama, the leaders of the world’s two biggest polluters, for announcing new pledges to cut emissions by close to a third over the next two decades.
The US and China together produce about 45% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. They are key players in negotiations for a new global climate agreement to be finalized in Paris in 2015.
Developing nations on the frontlines of climate change like the Philippines have been pushing for what they call “climate justice,” calling on major emitters like Washington and Beijing to own up to their historical responsibility of contributing the most to climate change.
Ban said that the US-China announcement was a “an important contribution to the new climate agreement.”
“Today, China and the United States have demonstrated the leadership that the world expects of them. This leadership demonstrated by the Governments of the world’s two largest economies will give the international community an unprecedented chance to succeed at reaching a meaningful, universal agreement in 2015,” said Ban on Tuesday, November 11.
Obama and Xi announced the new pledges while meeting in Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Obama pledged to cut US emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. Xi in turn said China will peak its carbon emissions “around 2030,” the first time Beijing set a target date for the plan.
In a nod to the UN negotiations, Xi said, “We agreed to make sure that international climate change negotiations will reach an agreement in Paris.”
The UN chief said that the announcement shows that the “transition towards a low-carbon, climate resilient future is accelerating.”
Ban pointed out that the US-China deal is just the latest initiative after the pledges governments, businesses and civil society leaders made at the UN Climate Summit he hosted in September in New York, and the European Union’s announcement in October to cut its emissions by at least 40% by 2030 over 1990 levels.
The UN head called on all major economies to follow the US and China’s lead and announce “ambitious post-2020 targets” no later than the first quarter of 2015 ahead of the December talks in Paris.
The UN talks are held under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process. Its head Christiana Figueres also hailed the US-China move as “providing both practical and political momentum” for the agreement.
Negotiations aim to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, the globally agreed threshold to avoid the disastrous effects of climate change.
A UN report released last week showed that the world is running out of time to reach the target, with warming likely to reach 4 degrees by 2100, causing worsening drought, flood, rising seas, and species extinctions.
More action needed
Climate movement 350.org, which organized the world’s largest climate mobilization in history, said that the US and China have more to do to fight climate change. 350.org was behind the People’s Climate March held in New York in September.
350.org executive director May Boeve said that while the US-China announcement showed Obama is taking his climate legacy seriously, the President must stop the controversial $10-billion Keystone XL pipeline project to connect Canadian oil sands with US refineries.
“There’s no way approving the Keystone XL pipeline and additional fossil fuel development is compatible with this pathway. President Obama needs to build on this announcement and continue to take on climate deniers in the oil industry and Congress to ensure a clean future,” Boeve said.
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), a US-based environmental think tank, said the US-China announcement was a departure from the blame game that characterized the UN climate talks.
“For too long it’s been too easy for both the US and China to hide behind one another. People on both sides pointed to weak action abroad to delay action at home. This announcement hopefully puts those excuses behind us. We’ll only avert the worst risks of climate change by acting together,” said C2ES president Bob Perciasepe.
‘US Congress must act’
Despite the global commendation of the deal, here in the American capital, Republicans were quick to protest.
Fresh from last week’s midterm polls that saw his party dominating both houses of Congress, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the pledges as an “ideological war on coal” and a job-killer. He said the new Congress will prioritize “easing the burden” of environmental regulations.
The Obama administration has initiated actions to fight climate change largely through executive orders to bypass a confrontational Congress, where many lawmakers still deny the existence of climate change.
C2ES said that Obama can only go so far without congressional action.
“The new target is pushing the limits of what can be done under existing law. We can get there if Congress doesn’t stand in the way, and if states roll up their sleeves and work with businesses and other stakeholders to craft smart, practical plans to cut emissions from power plants,” the think tank said.
“But to go much further, we’ll ultimately need Congress to act.” – Rappler.com
Rappler multimedia reporter Ayee Macaraig is a 2014 fellow of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She is visiting New York and Washington DC to cover the UN General Assembly, foreign policy, diplomacy, and world events.