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.
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.
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.