U.S. and China Announce Major Climate Change Commitments in Lead Up to Paris Conference

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Publication date: 
29 September 2015

With the approaching meeting in Paris of the Conference of Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the U.S. and China announced on Friday substantial bilateral progress in their nations’ growing cooperation to address global climate change. Building on the November 2014 U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change, the leaders of world’s two largest economies strengthened their commitments to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, energy efficiency standards, international climate financing and other cooperation, and clean energy research and development.

Friday’s announcement by President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping occurred during a formal State Visit. Of note, the joint statement reaffirms their nations’ commitment to reaching an ambitious international agreement in 2015 that reflects the principle of the “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of the nations of the world. It emphasizes a worldwide low-carbon transformation is needed over the course of this century, and highlights the crucial role of rapid technological advancement and adoption in this transition.

At a press conference with Xi Jinping, Obama said “When the world’s two largest economies, energy consumers and carbon emitters come together like this, then there is no reason for other countries, whether developed or developing, to not do so as well. So this is another major step toward the global agreement the world needs to reach in two months’ time.” Climate policy expert and physicist Amory Lovins, who leads the Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder, Colo., called this the most significant milestone to date for battling global climate change.  

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) was more critical in his reaction: “These public pledges sound good, but come with serious economic consequences for the United States…. This is a great deal for the Chinese, who are slated to continue increasing emissions with the potential of capping them years from now.

Of the commitments the two nations announced, the most likely to impact the scientific community directly is increased exchange and cooperation between the U.S. and China in clean energy research. The nations have already established a joint Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) and on Friday newly announced the launch of a new technical track at the Center to improve the energy efficiency of medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks as well as an extension of the CERC mandate through 2020. In addition, the nations announced the development of new Electric Vehicle Interoperability Centers to better coordinate relative technical standards and otherwise promote coordination between the two countries to advance adoption of electric vehicles. The U.S. also announced five research projects focused on conserving water resources, specifically to study the feasibility of using briny water from carbon dioxide storage sites to produce fresh water.

Other pillars of the U.S.-China agreement include: major domestic GHG emissions reductions in both nations, including comprehensive regulatory programs to achieve those reductions; new emissions standards for heavy duty trucks, appliances, and buildings; engagement of major U.S. and Chinese cities in setting local and regional GHG targets; and over $6 billion in international financing to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries address and prepare for climate change.

Together these commitments have the potential to serve as the foundation of a broader international pact that yields binding commitments from the major economies of the world. Many scientists, political leaders, climate activists, and other observers are anticipating that the Paris meeting could produce such a binding agreement, given Friday’s announcement.  The Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC is set to meet in Paris from November 30 through December 11.

Further details on the terms of the U.S.-China set of commitments are available from the White House here.

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