The Slatest

U.S. and China Announce Potentially Historic Climate Change Pledges

Obama and Xi Jinping.

Pool photo by Greg Baker/Reuters

Speaking in Beijing today, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have announced an unexpected agreement to attempt to reduce carbon emissions. From the New York Times:

As part of the agreement, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. That is double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020.

China’s pledge to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, is even more remarkable. To reach that goal, Mr. Xi pledged that so-called clean energy sources, like solar power and windmills, would account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030.

The deal is important not just because China and the U.S. produce so much carbon but because other countries are expected to follow their lead. (No other country wants to be part of a disruptive climate-change undertaking that the world’s two largest economies aren’t involved with.)

A climate deal between China and the United States, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 carbon polluters, 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.

Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in a Times op-ed that the deal—which does not, apparently, include enforcement mechanisms—is meant to build momentum for wide participation in a United Nations conference in Paris next year. The Paris conference will aim to produce an international climate agreement akin to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in which the United States (and China) did not participate.

Republicans in Congress have already begun condemning the U.S.-China agreement as an attack on affordable fossil fuel energy. House Speaker John Boehner says the GOP will do what it can to stop this and other initiatives to reduce carbon emissions through executive action. “Republicans have consistently passed legislation to rein in the EPA and stop these harmful policies from taking effect,” Boehner said, per Business Insider. “And we will continue to make this a priority in the new Congress.”