Here was my Tweet the other day. Today we have an answer.
If you went to bed early on Tuesday night, you might have missed some very big news out of Obama-Xi meeting in Beijing, other than announcements on trade and regional security. I’m talking about the potentially momentous bilateral agreement on climate change where China announced for the first time a date — “around 2030” — for peak greenhouse gas emissions and the United States announced a 2025 emissions reduction target. This is big news, potentially changing the entire international dynamic going in to next year’s climate negotiations in Paris (and interim negotiations in Lima later this year).
With the two countries responsible for more than 40% of greenhouse gas emissions making a significant joint push, the pressure will be on other big emitting countries, namely India, Canada, Japan, and Australia to fall in to line and be constructive players themselves. It will be interesting to see how this changes the domestic context for the United States where President Obama may use existing regulatory authority and executive action to press the policy agenda, but it’s unclear if that will be enough to meet the ambitious 2025 goals. China for its part may be on track anyway to meet that 2030 peak target, but the real question is, as I’ve written before (here and here), how far it can go to move away from coal. Read on for full linkages to press coverage, Kerry’s op-ed in the New York Times, reflections from Brad Plumer, and the White House announcement that includes more detail on expanded technical cooperation. Continue reading
One of this weeks big news items in international relations was the progress that China and the United States had made in their bilateral climate talks (gated but free registration available). While it is too early to say if the talks result in concrete action, this is the first time since forever that the two largest emitters are recognizing their common interest in cooperating to mitigate climate change.
What should we expect? It would be naive to believe that these talks break the gridlock of global climate negotiations. Regardless of what China and the United States discuss in the talks, the grim reality of American politics is that any legally binding climate treaty would have a tough time in the Senate. The domestic political structure of the United States makes federal climate policy, let alone treaty ratification, very hard in today’s polarized environment. Even if China accepted binding emissions targets — and that’s a big if — I would not expect Republicans to vote for, say, a national cap-and-trade policy. After all, Republicans are currently accusing the Obama administration for waging a “war on coal”.
More modest achievements are possible. Cooperation on low-carbon initiatives and renewable energy could contribute to decarbonization, facilitate technology transfer, and send a signal to the clean technology industry that there are new opportunities in the horizon. Even modest steps to this direction could encourage other countries to increase their offers in different negotiations, such as those among major emitters. While Obama’s hands are tied as long as the Congress remains polarized on climate, he has a proven track record of acting on climate through executive authority. The Chinese political constraints are less transparent, and I am not a specialist in this field, but Beijing certainly has strong incentives to deploy clean technologies to mitigate air pollution and reduce the country’s energy intensity and dependence on coal.
As long as we accept the constraints on global climate cooperation and expect only modest gains at the international level until a fundamental shift in the domestic politics of fossil fuels, the bilateral climate talks between China and the United States are welcome news. They’re not that surprising either. China’s increasing carbon dioxide emissions are changing Beijing’s position in the negotiations. While the average standard of living in China is still much lower than in industrialized countries, China’s status as the world’s largest emitter makes it difficult for the Chinese leadership to hide behind the developing country status much longer. On a good day, I would say that China’s increased willingness to negotiate is a sign of recognizing the need to for a new, more proactive strategy. The world’s two largest emitters are the most important countries in the negotiations by a wide margin, and much depends on their ability to cooperate.
Following on my round of links on Thursday, this is a guest post from Jennifer Hadden from the University of Maryland who is in Warsaw at the global climate negotiations (follow her on Twitter here).
Yeb Saño, Climate Change Commissioner of the Philippines, opened the annual negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change last week by making an emotional appeal to delegates to “stop the madness” and act decisively on climate change. As of Thursday evening, there have been two three walkouts by the G77/China on the issue of ‘loss and damage’ and a substantial and broad-based civil society walkout over the general lack of progress in the talks.
Skeptical observers might wonder if this is not just the usual COP drama. Are these meetings becoming nothing more than a symbolic opportunity for developing countries to air their grievances while developed countries listen politely (or in the Australian case, impolitely)? Don’t NGOs always behave theatrically in order to draw attention to themselves? Does anything even really happen at these meetings anymore? Continue reading
The annual climate negotiations are going on at the moment in Warsaw, Poland. For long-time observers of the process, they have a Groundhog Day-esque quality to them. Every year the same issues seem to come up again and again, and it’s unclear if there has been any meaningful progress or if each negotiation is more or less a replay of what transpired the previous year, with divisions between developed and developing countries almost always ever-present.
Rich countries aren’t doing enough while poor countries and environmental activists are demanding greater action because there is a climate crisis. Somehow, 10,000+ activists descending upon delegates of nearly 200 nations doesn’t seem to do much, yet the annual dance. This year is no different, though it is an interim meeting before a new and improved climate agreement with some legal form set to be negotiated in 2015. In the meantime, here is what’s going down this year…
Aside from some abortion rights Texas senate filibuster coverage, this week’s morning linkage is all about climate change and President Obama’s Tuesday speech at Georgetown University. The announced plan aims to use existing executive branch authority, including the EPA’s ability to regulate pollutants under the Clean Air Act, to initiate measures to control carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases. This move obviates the need for additional legislative action, which isn’t going to happen with this Congress. Beyond the headline announcement for new controls on power plants, the plan has a number of interesting details, particularly related to U.S. international finance and the reduction in support for coal projects around the world.
The general take is, as the FT notes, that this is a modest step in the right direction that reinforces the recent decline in U.S. emissions, down nearly 7% since 2005, driven in part by low natural gas prices, lower economic activity, and renewables. Here are some of the plan’s highlights: Continue reading
I gave a guest lecture for undergraduates on the state of global climate negotiations yesterday for a law school colleague here at the University of Texas. In light of the president’s strong but ambiguous comments in the State of the Union last night threatening executive action if the Congress doesn’t act, I thought I’d share my notes here and would welcome comments from others about whether I’ve done justice to the arc of negotiations. My aim was to bring a group of 20 year olds up to speed so that they could understand how we got from the 1992 Framework Convention to last year’s negotiations in Doha.