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Transcontinental Climate Consensus

Transcontinental Climate Consensus

In November, Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping signed a joint-pledge to lower harmful carbon emissions in the U.S. and China in the coming decades. The agreement between the world’s first and third largest countries set a precedent for other nations in their efforts to mitigate climate change.

Carbon dioxide is a chemical compound found naturally on Earth. It is exhaled by humans and other animals. While it is relatively harmless in small amounts, ever since the industrial revolution, there has been a dangerous rise in large-scale carbon dioxide emissions.  Carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels are burned.  Due to modern society’s extreme dependence on fossil fuels, vast amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere. The gas prevents some of the infrared rays reflecting off of the Earth from leaving the atmosphere, thus warming the Earth. This process is called the “greenhouse effect.”

A hotter planet has a variety of effects, including the melting of ice caps in the poles, damaged habitats for endangered species, extreme weather, and agricultural harm, just to name a few. The impact on human health will be severe as well. In response to these threats, there has been a recent surge in calls for countries to “cap” their carbon emissions. This pressure led the largest (China) and second largest (U.S.) carbon dioxide emitting countries in the world to commit to finding cleaner energy solutions this past fall.

On Wednesday, November 12th, news broke from Beijing that an agreement had been reached. Members of the administrations said that the two countries had been engaging in discrete negotiations for nine months, culminating in two days of meetings between the presidents and other leading officials.

In the final agreement, the United States committed to cutting its emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels.  This goal nearly doubled emission reduction targets for 2020 set in previous negotiations. China ensured that its greenhouse gas emissions would peak by 2030, aiming for even sooner than that.  In addition, cleaner energy solutions would comprise 20% of its primary energy by 2030.

Many politicians and scientists commended the two countries for taking responsibility for their large carbon footprints. Assistant professor of science at Georgetown University, Joanna Lewis, stated, “The announcements from the United States and China are aggressive and significant.” There is, however, opposition to the pact from some republican party leaders who argue that the accord is unrealistic and will result in fewer job opportunities in the United States. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated, “Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners. This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs.” Other republicans in Congress resent what they call Obama’s “crusade” against fossil fuels.

While this pact is generally perceived as a good start, many believe there is need for more aggressive action. “There’s a lot more optimism now than there was before the agreement, but there’s still a tremendous amount of work to do,” says World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim. Yong Kim is certainly right that this is not the end. Both countries must continue to act on their pledges in order for this agreement to truly take effect.

A recent White House press release deemed climate change “one of the greatest threats facing humanity.” It is promising that Washington and Beijing have come together to address this pressing issue. While this work is not done and the global community is still searching for more long term international pacts to lower emissions, the China-U.S. accords will prove to be an effective stepping stone in the world’s efforts against climate change

-Andy P.

(Art by Alison M.)