BEIJING, China, November 13, 2014 (AMG) — The United States of America and China, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, have finally come to a mutual agreement regarding emission reductions. It was the first joint agreement between the two countries on climate change.

Pledges: The United States pledged to reduce emission by 26-28% by 2050, compared to 2005 emission levels, while China pledged that its emissions would peak by 2030.

Why this is ground-breaking:

  • Together, the U.S. and China produce 46% of global emissions
  • Neither country has ever made commitments of this calibre, each waiting on the other to make its move first
  • Reductions from these two nations could mean that global temperatures could remain within the 2oC/35.6oF window scientists have estimated as the limit to ensure irreversible damage does not occur

See also: Understanding climate change in the Caribbean context

The U.S. has previously been cautious of reducing their emissions, fearing that any reduction would result in increased energy bills and a diversion of jobs to China. According to BBC’s environment analyst, Roger Harrabin, the relationship between the U.S. and China as changed from “we won’t if you won’t” to “we will if you will.” He says that such an agreement sends a message to financiers that investment in dirty fuels for the future is becoming risky.

In calling the long awaited agreement ‘historic,’ President Obama promised that the U.S. would assist China in order to “slow, peak and then reverse the course of China’s carbon emissions.”

What’s next: These pledges come before the U.N. climate conference to be held in Lima, Peru from December 1-12, 2014. This conference aims to lay the groundwork for the much anticipated climate conference in Paris in 2015, which is expected to yield agreements on greenhouse gas emission reductions, to be effected from 2020.

President Xi said, “we agreed to make sure that international climate change negotiations will reach an agreement in Paris.” This will be a prosperous feat following the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen, Denmark meeting to reach a similar agreement.

Hold your applause: Last month, the European Union, which is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, pledged to make a 40% reduction in their carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Nevertheless, scientists maintain that a 40% reduction is not enough; with Greenpeace estimates calling for as much as a 55% reduction from the EU by 2030 instead.

Scientists also warn that we should not be too quick to applaud the new pledges made by the U.S. and China, considering the scale of their past pledges. In the Climate meeting held in Copenhagen, 2009, the U.S. announced that they would reduce emissions by 42% below 2005 levels by 2030 and China committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 45% below 2005 levels by 2020. However, the Copenhagen meeting was an overall failure as no legally binding agreement was made, and so these nations were not expected to meet their pledged reductions.

All the same, pledges from these two large global emitters present a hopeful sign for future. While larger nations such as the China, the U.S. and states of the E.U. are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, the consequences are highly noticeable in Small Island Developing States such as the islands of the Caribbean.

US and China make long awaited climate change pledges

Sophia Longsworth

Sophia is a Grenadian residing in the United States. She holds an MPH and an MSc. in Natural Resource and Environmental Management, and has research interests in the impact of the environment on public health.

PUBLISHED — November 13, 2014

Category: CARICOM & Foreign PolicySustainability