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Facing a crisis, a breakthrough offers new hope

For many years, Republican climate deniers said President Obama would never be able to convince China to take action. Guess who was wrong and who was right.
Barack Obama, Xi Jinping
U.S. President Barack Obama, right, smiles as he walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 12, 2014.
Just last week, at the debate for Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was asked about climate change. The far-right senator, who's consistently balked at doing anything to address the crisis, repeated a familiar refrain.
"America is a lot of things -- the greatest country in the world, absolutely -- but America is not a planet," the Florida senator argued. "And we are not even the largest carbon producer anymore, China is."
It's become the go-to excuse for Republican climate deniers for many years: China is a huge country, producing massive amounts of carbon pollution, so there's no reason for the United States to act unilaterally. Indeed, the right has long assumed that President Obama simply wasn't an effective enough leader to persuade Chinese officials to take action to address the crisis.

China will announce Friday that it will launch a national carbon emissions trading market in 2017 as part of a joint climate change statement with the United States meant to boost prospects for a global climate pact, U.S. officials said. The statement will be one of the few policy announcements the two countries are expected to make during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama Friday. 

The announcement will reportedly sketch out China's plan for a cap-and-trade system, covering the country's energy industry. But the commitments also extend to truck emissions, building efficiencies, appliance standards, and financial assistance "to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change or adopt cleaner energy technology."
As Rachel noted on the show last night, this may be about as big as environmental news can get.
As is always the case, the devil will be in the details, and at this point, the formal announcement has not yet been made. But as the New York Times noted, this will be the first time China makes a public commitment to "a specific plan to carry out what have so far been general ambitions."
If this story sounds vaguely familiar, that's because those "general ambitions" were part of an agreement reached between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping late last year -- an agreement Republicans in the United States said would never materialize.
Indeed, last summer, after Obama unveiled a very ambitious climate plan, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal -- one of the best representations of the Republican establishment in American media -- immediately dismissed the policy as folly. The argument was simple: China would never agree to pursue similar goals, so the White House policy would fail. “Good luck persuading Xi Jinping,” the editors said.
A year later, President Obama appears to have persuaded Xi Jinping.
I don't doubt that the GOP's climate deniers will continue to reject the scientific evidence and will continue to refuse all proposals to address the crisis. But in light of China's breakthrough, Republicans have suddenly lost their single favorite excuse for passivity.