China and the US have to fight what the White House called "one of the greatest threats facing humanity"—climate change. The two countries agreed to adopt a new global climate accord by 2015 and set ambitious new targets for carbon emissions reductions. It's the first time China has ever done so.
This is a big deal for a few reasons, not least of which is that China and the U.S. combine to account for a whopping 45 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. If the top two polluters don't get on board with emissions-reduction programs, other countries have less incentive to do so.
To this point, politicians in each country have had a handy excuse for sitting out on previous reduction programs, which is that if one of the countries bails on emissions reductions, then it's hardly fair for the other to limit itself. By agreeing to negotiate a new global greenhouse gas reduction effort by next year, the two powerhouse rivals can take the lead rather than fighting on the sidelines.
As part of the agreement, the US commits to belching out 26 to 28 percent less carbon dioxide in 2025 than it did in 2005. That's double the pace of previous reduction targets. And China commits to reaching peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 or earlier. To do it, 20 percent of China's energy will have to come from wind and solar power by 2030. That's an extremely ambitious goal, , which points out that China finishes a new coal plant every eight to 10 days.
President Obama is in China this week meeting with President Xi Jinping, but the new agreement has been in the works for about nine months. In a put out by the White House, the leaders say they wanted to inject momentum into global climate negotiations ahead of the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris next year. The convention could see a global emissions-reduction accord akin to the Kyoto Protocols of the late 1990s—only this time, the US and China would sign it.
Now for the bad news: This won't be easy, especially when it comes to politics. The United States' current carbon-cutting goals call for a 1.2 percent reduction per year; under this new plan, that would rise to 2.8 percent, . This goal is possible if you assume the Environmental Protection Agency will still be able to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. However, that is in question now that a Republican Party typically opposed to action on climate is about to assume control of both houses of Congress.
Still, after seeing China and the U.S. sit on the sidelines for so long as the rest of the world tries to address climate change, just seeing the two countries agree on the issue is a major step forward. As the memo states: