Sunday 8 December 2019

US, China unveil landmark deal on greenhouse gases

Myanmar's President Thein Sein, U.S. President Barack Obama, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev holding hands while posing for pictures before the gala dinner at the Asia-Pacific summit in China. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Myanmar's President Thein Sein, U.S. President Barack Obama, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev holding hands while posing for pictures before the gala dinner at the Asia-Pacific summit in China. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Josh Lederman

A ground-breaking agreement struck by the United States and China has put the world's two worst polluters on a faster track to curbing the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming.

With the clock ticking on a worldwide climate treaty, the two countries are seeking to put their troubled history as environmental adversaries behind them in hopes that other nations will be spurred to take equally aggressive action.

The US is setting an ambitious new goal to stop pumping as much carbon dioxide into the air. China, whose appetite for cheap energy has grown along with its burgeoning economy, agreed for the first time to a self-imposed deadline of 2030 for when its emissions will top out. Yet it wasn't clear how either the US or China would meet their goals, nor whether China's growing emissions until 2030 would negate any reductions in the US.

But the dual announcements from President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, unveiled yesterday in Beijing, came as a shock to environmentalists who had sought such action but suspected China's reluctance and Mr Obama's weakened political standing might interfere. In Washington, Republicans were equally taken aback, accusing Obama of dumping an unrealistic obligation on the next president.

In fact, the deal had been hashed out behind the scenes for months. US Secretary of State John Kerry floated the idea during a visit to China in February, and Mr Obama followed up by writing Mr Xi in the spring to suggest the world's two largest economies join forces. Mr Obama pressed the issue again during a meeting with China's vice-premier on the sidelines of a UN climate summit in September, and the two countries finally sealed the deal late on Tuesday - just in time to announce it in grand fashion as Mr Obama's trip to China was coming to an end.

"This is a major milestone in the US-China relationship," Mr Obama said, with Mr Xi at his side. "It shows what's possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge."

Mr Obama set a goal to cut US emissions between 26 and 28pc by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. China, whose emissions are growing as it builds new coal plants, set a target for its emissions to peak by about 2030 - earlier if possible - with the idea being that its emissions would then start falling.

Although that goal still allows China to keep pumping more carbon dioxide for the next 16 years, it marked an unprecedented step for Beijing, which has been reluctant to be boxed in by the global community.

Irish Independent

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