When President Obama left Washington on Sunday for meetings in China, there were expectations that we’d see some progress on trade talks and perhaps some discussions about North Korea.
What we didn’t know was that secret negotiations on climate policy have been ongoing, leading to a breakthrough agreement announced overnight.
The U.S. and China announced late Tuesday that the two nations – which together account for over one third of all greenhouse gas pollution – have reached a groundbreaking deal to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the growing crisis of global climate change.The sweeping agreement, achieved after months of secret negotiations, includes a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing entirely after 2030. The U.S. would double its pace of carbon reduction from 1.2% a year through 2020 to 2.3-2.8% a year afterward, ultimately cutting its total greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025.
President Obama, standing alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping, called the deal “a major milestone,” which seems entirely fair under the circumstances.
The emission goals established by the bilateral agreement are modest, and no one is suggesting that these reductions will resolve the crisis on its own. The breakthrough, however, is the fact that Obama and his team were able to bring China to the table and reach a deal at all.
Remember, Republicans, when they’re not denying the existence of climate science, have argued repeatedly that the United States cannot act alone on carbon pollution – if China is unwilling to work towards the same goals, the problem will get worse and the U.S. will be at a competitive disadvantage.
The argument has always been something of a cop-out: Republicans assumed Obama would never be able to persuade China to reach an agreement, so by establishing Chinese cooperation as a precondition for action, the GOP felt confident nothing would ever happen.
And yet, here we are.
Indeed, Mother Jones pulled together a video highlighting some of the many instances in which Republicans used China as an excuse to do nothing about global warming.
In June, after Obama unveiled a very ambitious climate plan, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal immediately dismissed the policy as folly – because China would never agree to pursue similar goals. “Good luck persuading Xi Jinping,” the editors said.
Five months later, the Obama administration persuaded Xi Jinping.
For more details on the agreement, the White House published a lengthy fact sheet online, and Secretary of State John Kerry, who helped initiate the climate talks in February, has a new op-ed this morning in the New York Times on the significance of the deal.
Grist makes the case that the agreement is “a game changer” in addressing the climate crisis, and Rebecca Leber reminds us that this is the first time China has ever agreed to emissions caps.
Jake Schmidt, director of the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Leber, “It’s the agreement that people have been waiting for, for a long time. It’s the two biggest emitters, the two largest economies, the two biggest drags on agreement over the years. For them to step up and say we’re going to take deep actions, it will send a powerful signal to countries around the word.”
And Evan Soltas concluded that between the China deal, mileage standards, and power-plant regulations, President Obama’s legacy on the environment “may be as significant as for health care.”