The USA-China Climate Change Agreement: A Game Changer?


In a groundbreaking ceremony, on November 12, 2014, President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in order to jointly announce the nations’ environmental plans to drastically reduce carbon emissions from both countries. According to a study conducted by the Energy Information Agency, the two superpowers lead the world in carbon emissions by a fair margin, so efforts to combat the effects of global warming would necessarily include reducing the carbon footprint of these two nations. and taking steps to cut down on these emissions will help ensure that their green efforts will be followed by the many countries that depend on the two powerful nations. So what changes will the nations be aiming for in the years to come?

For starters, Obama is “setting a new target to cut US carbon pollution by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.”With its environmental policies, the United States intends to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. This aim makes it necessary for, in spite of the constant expansion of the world’s population and, by extension, economic activity, to reduce actual pollution levels, rather than have them steadily rise at a slightly slower pace. The White House reported that the changes in policy that were announced are ambitious, but achievable, and they are “grounded in an intensive analysis” of what actions are available to take under current law. This demonstrates a large, increasingly progressive change in environmental policy, where we are thinking not only of halting negative climate changes, but reversing them.

However, the country can not achieve its aims without the economic and political cooperation of foreign powers: it’s therefore an even better sign that China, which has previously acquired infamy for the horrendous air pollution in Beijing (which a United States Embassy official called ”Crazy Bad”) has pledged to cut down on their air pollution levels, claiming that their CO2 emissions “peak in 2030” before beginning a downward climb, as well as boosting their share of “non-fossil fuel energy to around 20%”. China also plans to stop all coal use in Beijing by 2020, and has prohibited “new coal-fired power plants around Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou”.

“No two countries are more important to tackling the problem than the largest carbon emitter over the past two centuries, the U.S., and the largest current emitter, China,” commented two environmental experts at UCLA law school. The effects of this monumental step in international relations between the United States and China regarding environmental policy will certainly be felt by this generation and those to come, passing on a healthier Earth to those who will inherit it. In the midst of all the environmental catastrophe in the news lately, it’s easy to forget that these are felt by people all around the world, wealthy and poor, small and powerful, and everywhere there are people trying to make a difference. Hopefully, such an apt demonstration as the most recent climate announcement by two of the most powerful figures in the modern world will inspire more people to rally towards improving the state of our climate, our environment, and our health.

Will this development influence other countries outside of the agreement? The short answer is yes. According to David B. Sandalow, former under secretary of energy at the US Department of Energy, “It sends a signal to the world. Other countries will look at this and say, “We need to think seriously about our policies.” India, for example, is working on its climate policies now. So, the announcement has good timing. (Indians I spoke with today report that) the Prime Minister is very serious about clean energy.”


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