US and China strike deal on carbon emissions pre-G20

Posted on 12 Nov 2014 by Tim Brown

With the topic of climate change obvious in its absence from this weekend's G20 agenda, President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have taken matters into their own hands during a summit of World Leaders in China and reached an historic bilateral agreement to limit carbon emissions.

It marks the first time that China, which has commonly been seen as a major hindrance to a global consensus on emissions reduction, has made a cross-country commitment to cap carbon emissions.

For the US, the agreement will mean a 26-28% reduction below 2005 levels by 2025, the first time the president has set a goal beyond the existing 2020 target of 17%. By comparison, China, due to its ‘developing nation’ status, has agreed that its emissions will peak and then begin to reduce by 2030. This goal is also related to China’s declaration that it is committing to have 20% of its power generation provided by renewable sources by 2030, which, it is roughly estimated, will be equivalent to the entire electricity consumption of the US.

The combined emissions of the two countries account for approximately 40% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, and the agreement is likely to increase the chance of a new international post-2020 target when climate negotiators meet in Paris in December next year.

Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten responded to the announcement of agreement releasing a statement calling to task Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott for his stance on climate change and his refusal to include climate change at the G20.

“Tony Abbott fought and fought to stop climate change being discussed at this weekend’s G20,” said Mr Shorten. “If Tony Abbott still refuses to discuss the need to take action on climate change at the G20, he will embarrass Australia in front of the rest of the world. Any argument for inaction because the rest of the world isn’t acting is clearly false.”

The targets have been hailed as very encouraging but meeting the targets will prove difficult for both countries. In the US, the president faces strong opposition to emissions reduction measures from the Republican party. While China is still heavily reliant on coal fired power. Indeed, according to the US government’s own projections, China will add yet another US worth of coal plants over the next 10 years, or the equivalent of a new 600-megawatt plant every 10 days for 10 years.

Earlier this year, China announced plans in January, that it would obtain a maximum of 65% of its energy production from coal in 2014. It is unclear whether China is on target to reach this aim, which still represents an approximate 1.6% increase in overall coal use for the year, as electricity demand continues to escalate in the country.