Obama’s China Breakthrough

chinaobama

Today the United States and China reached a landmark agreement on battling climate change.   This is a major breakthrough and reflects in part the fact China’s scientists are alarmed about global warming and what it could do to China’s coastal cities.

China and the US are the top two polluters in the world.  Together they produce almost 50% of the world’s carbon dioxide.  With the EU having met the Kyoto targets (without harming their economy in the process – quite the contrary!), the battle against climate change depends on these two states being able to cooperate.  Until now it’s appeared almost impossible.

Unfortunately, the onus will be on the US to resist political opposition.  Global warming deniers are disappearing as the science becomes overwhelming.  In fact, outside the US it’s accepted as settled that climate change is happening, with CO2 emissions the driving force.  Only in the US, where a well funded lobby churns out disinformation and uses ideological fervor to distort the science, is there powerful opposition.  The good news is young people overwhelmingly agree something needs to be done (it’s their future after all) and climate change deniers will die out.  The bad news is that we don’t have the luxury to wait that long.

Climate change denial is irrational - doing nothing means a lot more death and economic damage

Climate change denial is irrational – doing nothing means a lot more death and economic damage

China now sees itself as a major economic power, a force behind the emerging global economic system.   As such, it recognizes that its citizens deserve clean air and water, and decent wages.   China’s leaders can no longer justify ignoring the potential devastating impact on China that climate change could have.

The deal says that the US will emit 26-28% less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005.  China will peak at about 2030.  China has a much more difficult time altering its economy, which is growing much faster than the US.  The key point in this agreement is a signal to the world that a new Climate change treaty is do-able in 2015.

The US Senate will not ratify it at first.  But if in 2016 the Democrats take back the Senate (likely, given that the GOP will be defending 24 seats and the Democrats only 10) and a Democrat is elected President, I would bet that such a treaty including China could be ratified.  Many GOP moderates only tolerate the deniers in their party, most of them realize the science is overwhelming.

A Canadian expresses the shock many of us have that Obama gets so much criticism - when he's been doing a solid job!

A Canadian expresses the shock many of us have that Obama gets so much criticism – when he’s been doing a solid job!

This is also another reason why I’m convinced Obama will be remembered as a great President – one that oversaw a recovery from the horrific recession he inherited and who managed to end two wars.   Now it looks like his plan to weaken ISIS is working better than most expected, without using US combat troops and instead increasing local cooperation.

If this US-Chinese agreement can jump start climate change negotiations and lead to global unity to address the greatest threat facing the world — far more dangerous than ISIS or Ebola — it might be the most important act of Obama’s presidency.    It also shows that the stories of his political irrelevancy are premature.

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  1. #1 by SShiell on November 14, 2014 - 09:59

    Dateline 12 November 2014 – The Onion

    China Vows to Begin Aggressively Falsifying Air Pollution Numbers

    BEIJING—Acknowledging the industrialized nation’s role in global climate change, China reportedly reached a landmark agreement with the United States Wednesday, pledging to significantly increase the rate at which it falsifies air pollution data over the next 15 years. “As the world’s leading manufacturer and a rising global economy, we consider it our responsibility to begin taking aggressive measures to fabricate pollution statistics and openly misinform the rest of the world about our level of carbon emissions,” said Chinese president Xi Jinping during a joint press conference with U.S. president Barack Obama, noting that, while China has already taken steps to misrepresent its air quality, it will steadily expand its current deception and begin distorting data in a variety of new sectors, such as grossly overstating its level of investment in solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. “China is strongly committed to the goal of claiming its greenhouse gas output has been cut in half by 2030. We will work tirelessly to exaggerate, manipulate, and in many cases flat-out lie about the amount of pollutants Chinese factories and energy plants release into the atmosphere. That is our unwavering pledge.” At press time, Chinese officials announced that the country had already met its goal.

    Unfortunately there is more truth in this satire than in your blog entry.

    Cheers

    • #2 by Scott Erb on November 14, 2014 - 10:01

      But China WANTS to have less pollution – it sees that as a sign of being a major power, it sees it as something its people deserve. They also fear the impact of global warming. More importantly, this makes possible a new comprehensive climate change treaty, one that will be good for everyone!

      • #3 by SShiell on November 14, 2014 - 15:20

        Yeah and I WANT a lot of things. But nowhere do I see your ability to read the minds of the Chinese diplomats so I don’t really think you KNOW what China WANTS.

        Tell you what – look for the fallacy in the following statements: I INTEND to win the Oscar for Best Actor this year. I INTEND to vote for any Democrat that is on the ballot in 2016. And in like manner, China INTENDs to reduce emissions – tell me what that means exactly and what holds them to that commitment because that is the language of the agreement. Yeah, what you WANT and what you are going to get out of this piece of paper is two very different things.

        But hey, Obama is going to be remembered as a great President – because you said so.

  2. #4 by Scott Erb on November 14, 2014 - 15:32

    Yeah, but essentially what you’re saying is that people don’t always do as intended. In that case, why have agreements with anybody? Why ever have treaties? Countries know that keeping their word has a huge impact on their reputation and whether others will work with them. That is important to China. I suspect they will stick to the agreement. Time will tell.

    • #5 by SShiell on November 14, 2014 - 16:37

      Yes, I’m saying people don’t always do as intended. Why have agreements with anybody? Leverage. Nobody would dare renege on an agreement or treaty, now would they. Oh wait – this one comes to mind – German Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 – and shortly thereafter they collectively raped Poland. And then in 1941 Hitler invaded Russia. Those Germans really worried about their reputation on that one.

      And what pray tell is China committing to? They “intend” to do something some years AFTER we do something. They are really going out on a limb on this one.

      Is the Senate going to confirm this “Treaty”? Probably not because it’s not a treaty, is it. And since it is not a treaty, what binding mechanisms are in place to ensure adherence to the agreement – a handshake. So it’s a handshake between a lame-duck President who does not control the purse strings of his own government committing the US to actions beyond his own administration and a communist government that has shown itself to be – what’s the word – trustworthy?

      Yeah, Time will tell.

      • #6 by Scott Erb on November 14, 2014 - 17:39

        China is the most important economic actor on the planet, along with the US. Your approach seems to say that because they might not follow through (though China has been pretty good at keeping its word and honoring commitments – there is no real evidence for your position here), then we can’t do business with them? That seems an absurd position.

        Executive agreements do not have the force of treaty, but are common. Obama has two more years as President – and he can and should use that power to the fullest, even if Republicans would rather him do nothing. (Next up – immigration) If this is an executive agreement, then it does not bind Obama’s successor. But the key importance of this agreement is signalling that both China and the US are willing to engage in real action to prevent climate change. That greatly improves the chances that a new climate change treaty will pass. The US did not participate in Kyoto, but the EU met its goals: it helped their economy to do so, and gave the lead in green technology.

        I think the US will ultimately ratify a new treaty. Not with this Congress, but the next one. But we can’t refuse to work with other countries because they might not follow through!

      • #7 by SShiell on November 14, 2014 - 22:50

        Now you are attributing statements to me that I did not make. “Your approach seems to say that because they might not follow through (though China has been pretty good at keeping its word and honoring commitments – there is no real evidence for your position here), then we can’t do business with them?” I did not state that. I never said we could not do business with them.

        Simply put, you seem to think this signals something far greater than it is. China “intends” to do something far into the future. Not for them – China looks down the road in terms of generations. But for us, anything past the next general election is an eternity for us.

        This is merely as handshake and has no binding power on either party. And to treat is as anything other than that is, and I will use your own words against you, an absurd position.

  3. #8 by Scott Erb on November 14, 2014 - 23:16

    We’ll see – the conventional wisdom in the international community is that this is a big deal and makes the likelihood for a new climate change treaty next year much greater. It is more than a handshake. Diplomats take these things seriously, China has always taken agreements seriously. I think you are trying to make it seem less than it is.

    • #9 by SShiell on November 14, 2014 - 23:56

      And I think you are making it seem far more than it is.

      • #10 by Scott Erb on November 15, 2014 - 00:38

        Fair enough. Time will tell.

  4. #11 by Alan Scott on November 15, 2014 - 13:23

    Scott,

    ” Diplomats take these things seriously, China has always taken agreements seriously. ”

    I don’t doubt you see it that way. Even the Washington Post, which is no right wing rag had an article about the way China flaunts international agreements and norms.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/chinas-blackout-of-us-media-can-no-longer-be-ignored/2013/07/10/2bdea62e-e7f5-11e2-a301-ea5a8116d211_story.html

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