U.S., China Announce Deepened Partnership On Climate

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced additional commitments for both countries.

26/09/2015 2:12 AM AEST | Updated 28/09/2015 12:50 AM AEST

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced additional commitments on climate change Friday, along with a "common vision for an ambitious global climate agreement."

The presidents of the world's two biggest emitters are meeting in Washington. In the announcement, China committed to instate a cap-and-trade program for lowering emissions in 2017, and the U.S. reaffirmed its plans to cut emissions from power plants 32 percent by 2030.

China also announced it will commit $3.1 billion to help poorer countries deal with climate change through a bilateral fund. The U.S. had previously promised $3 billion to the international climate fund -- though whether it will be able to deliver is unclear, as Republicans in Congress have opposed efforts to provide the funding.

In a joint press conference with Xi on Friday, Obama said their work on climate shows "there's no reason for other countries, developed and developing, to not do so as well."

In their discussions, the two leaders also addressed the upcoming negotiations on climate change through the United Nations in Paris this December and agreed on the "importance of a successful agreement that ramps-up ambition over time, pointing toward a low-carbon transformation of the global economy this century," the White House said in a fact sheet issued Friday.

Xi said during the press conference that the two nations would "work together to push the Paris climate change conference to produce important progress."

They also agreed on the need for enhancing transparency around emission targets and progress, and pledged "to build mutual trust and confidence and promote effective implementation." 

Steve Herz, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club, points out that among the most important aspects of China's new pledge is that it is also committing to restrictions on making investments in high-carbon infrastructure projects abroad. China is emerging as a major overseas investor, and how it chooses to spend that money will  be important to future global emission trends.

China also announced it is establishing a "green dispatch" policy that will give electricity from renewable sources priority in supplying power to the grid -- another significant new policy, David Sandalow, a fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and a former official at the Obama administration Department of Energy, told The Huffington Post.

But even more important, perhaps, is the fact that the two countries have been able to demonstrate so much collaboration and alignment on climate.

"I think it's particularly striking that this is happening against the backdrop of significant tension in the broader bilateral relationship -- that these two countries are working well on climate change and clean energy even as other issues in the relationship are extremely difficult," Sandalow said. "It's both good for the climate and for the bilateral relationship."

In a statement, Greenpeace East Asia Senior Climate Policy Analyst Li Shuo called the announcement a "paradigm shift": “With this deal, it's clear China is ready to lead on climate. The old political excuses for inaction in Washington have become irrelevant." 

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