U.S.-China pact best hope of global climate agreement

The agreement between the United States and China gives the best chance in a long time of forming an actual world plan to combat climate change.

This pact is more than nine months in the making. U.S. and Chinese officials have been working behind the scenes to develop an agreement in which each country promises to cut greenhouse gases. There are new targets for carbon emissions reductions by the United States and — even more important — a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing past 2030.

The agreement is historic on many levels. The U.S. and China are the biggest polluters on the planet, and demonstrating a commitment by these two leading nations could very well produce a pact during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015. The U.S.-China pact also includes a letter President Obama wrote to Chinese President Xi Jinping proposing the joint agreement.

The U.S. has a new target for 2025: to cut U.S. carbon pollution by 26 percent to 28 percent from its 2005 levels. China is committing to peak its carbon dioxide emissions around 2030, and will try to reach that peak earlier. It also promises to boost its share of non-fossil fuel energy to 20 percent. China is already in second place when it comes to generating solar power. (Germany still leads all countries in that regard; the United States is fifth, behind Italy and Japan.) As a matter of fact, according to a report by the Earth Policy Institute, China is set to double its solar panel production by 2017. China installed a world record amount of solar photovoltaics (PV) capacity in 2013, the institute says.

Now other countries are on notice. If the United States and China can cut emissions and are willing to do so, other countries will be pressured to do the same.

According to a story in The New York Times, the U.S.-China pact “is viewed as essential to concluding a new global accord. Unless Beijing and Washington can resolve their differences, climate experts say, few other countries will agree to mandatory cuts in emissions, and any meaningful worldwide pact will be likely to founder.”

So what’s the next step? Unlike a treaty, this agreement with China does not need congressional approval. But wIth the Republican takeover of the Senate, we shouldn’t expect any cooperation on that end. After all, the new head of the Senate committee overseeing environmental concerns will be Sen. James Inhofe (R, Stone Age), the king of the climate change deniers. He constantly calls the concept of man-made global warming a “hoax” and a “conspiracy.” The GOP certainly could stand in the way of regulations that will achieve the goals of the agreement.

In the long run, though, the Republicans’ new favorite way to avoid talking about climate change — the “I’m not a scientist” excuse — is going to wear thin. Indeed, Inhofe’s outrageous statements about the climate should prove fodder for Democrats in 2016. According to an online story by Politico, some environmental groups see a silver lining in Inhofe’s chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. They figure that the worse he comes off — and he’s going to come off poorly; there’s no doubt about that — the easier it will be to attack Republicans on the issue of climate change for the next election.

“Leave it to today’s GOP to put someone who doesn’t believe in basic science at the helm of the committee that oversees environmental protection,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin. “It’s unfortunate that Republicans continue to put more stock in their rigid ideology than science and what’s best for the country.”

So thank you, President Obama and President Xi. Now let’s see if those who truly care about the future of the planet can move this effectively in the right direction.

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