NewsNorth AfricaClimate Change: China and US link efforts to cut emissions


Posted on Wednesday, 12 November 2014 17:42

Climate Change: China and US link efforts to cut emissions

Photo©ReutersChina and the US on Tuesday jointly sent out a hopeful signal that one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the climate negotiations has potentially evaporated.

This came after the two economic powerhouses announced an agreement, reached over several months of bilateral discussions that both countries would make concrete commitments, to reduce their emissions.

It would be crucial for us to find a way to provide electric vehicles to developing countries 

China agreed to peak its emissions by 2030 at the latest, and the US to reduce its emissions by 26%-28% against 2005 levels by 2025.

The fact that targets have been set, and that the announcement was made jointly, is considered significant, because previously neither country has been willing to make commitments or cooperate unless the other does, and both have tended to work unilaterally.

Although the US commitment falls far short of Africa's call for developed countries to commit to a reduction 45% against 1990 levels by 2030, Africa Group spokesperson, Seyni Nafo, says that this announcement indicates that these countries are serious about sealing a deal in 2015.

"The IPCC tells us that that somewhere in the second half of the century we need to go carbon neutral if we are serious about our 2°C limit, but global emissions will need to peak way before that, so this is a positive signal that key players want a deal in Paris, and Paris must set us on a new pathway, a new beginning", said Nafo.

The China-US announcement follows on the EU's announcement in late October that it intends to cut its emissions by 40% against 1990 levels by 2030.

With the three significant emitters intending to formalise their commitments as contributions at the climate negotiations, Nafo says that there is now some room to pressurise other large emitters, notably Japan, Canada and Australia, to make concrete contributions.

In addition to building on existing climate work underway in each country, a set of actions was agreed on, starting with strengthening cooperation on clean energy policy dialogue and technical work.

This work includes renewing and expanding on the US-China Clean Energy Research Centre, and expanding China's energy efficiency and renewable energy goals.

New technology

According to Hilton Trollip of the Energy Research Centre of the University of Cape Town, this type of research and development would have far reaching implications globally, "It would be great from a developing world point of view if key technologies were made available on favourable terms as part of the international climate agreement."

Trollip goes on to explain that new technologies and cheaper technologies are necessary to be able to limit warming to 2°C: "For example, one of the big challenges in South Africa is that we don't believe electric vehicles will become affordable soon enough to make the kind of contribution they need to make to reduce emissions.

"It would be crucial for us to find a way to provide electric vehicles to developing countries so that they can compete cost on cost with internal combustion engines."

Expansion on carbon capture, use and storage is received less positively by Trollip, not least because it is not yet proven on a commercial scale, and even some large companies have disinvested in the concept.

In addition, he says, "This sounds too much like it's placating the current huge investment in coal exploration and expansion."

Other measures listed in the China-US agreement include cooperation on hydrofluorocarbons and promoting trade in green goods.

That an agreement on climate change work was made in a bilateral space is not unique, and in fact a number of other processes have been underway to support agreement on international action on climate change.

They are considered a generally strong indication that, at the very least, countries are willing to do what is needed to keep the world from catastrophic climate change.

These bilateral and multilateral coopeartive discussions and agremeents lend strong support to the formal processess at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Rehana Dada is a communicator and researcher in earth sciences, global change and development. In 2011 she coordinated the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign during its first year in existence. In 2003 she received a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work is done mostly through her small company, Sea Witch.

Rehana Dada

Rehana Dada

Rehana Dada is a journalist and filmmaker who covers global change, development and earth sciences. She works in government and non profit sectors in research, communications and project management through her small company, Sea Witch. She is a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship alumna at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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