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Historic Announcement Shows US and China Are Serious about Fighting Climate Change

Frances Beinecke's picture

Frances Beinecke is the president of NRDC. Under Frances's leadership, the organization has launched a new strategic campaign that sharply focuses NRDC's efforts on curbing global...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Nov 15, 2014

china climate deal

President Obama and President Xi Jinping announced ambitious new plans to reduce climate change pollution. This marks a turning point in the fight against global warming. The world’s two largest emitters of carbon pollution have come together to set firm targets for cutting emissions. They each recognize that combating the climate crisis requires action at home and collaboration abroad.

Their joint commitment will help protect our families’ health and shield future generations from unchecked climate change.

And it will set the stage for next year’s international climate conference in Paris. It shows the world that the US and China are serious about tackling climate change and willing to commit to specific reductions.

The agreement should also quiet obstructionists in Congress who used China’s emissions as an excuse not to clean up our own pollution. That pretext was never valid: waiting for someone else to solve a problem harming our nation is not the kind of leadership that made America great. Yet opponents tried to make that claim for two decades.

Now Republican leaders are complaining China’s new targets aren’t strong enough—even as the GOP tries to block US climate action at every turn. Wednesday’s announcement is an important breakthrough, and no amount of spin from opponents can hide that fact. The agreement confirms that China and the US can move forward together to reduce pollution.

Here’s what the new plan calls for. The US will cut carbon pollution to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This is a significant commitment: it doubles the pace at which the US is reducing carbon emission. And it is fully achievable under existing law.

The US can meet the goal thanks to dramatic expansion in renewable power, breakthroughs in energy efficiency in buildings and cars, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants—the largest contributor of US emissions.

Meanwhile, China pledged to hit the peak of its carbon emissions around 2030, while striving to peak even earlier. It will also boost its share of non-fossil fuel energy to around 20 percent. These plans build on progress already underway in China.

China’s demand for coal declined in the first three-quarters of this year as its GDP continued to grow, and some analysts predict that coal use in China may peak as soon as this year.  It is planning to create a nationwide carbon market in 2016. And it has installed more wind turbines and more solar power last year than any other nation. NRDC’s team in Beijing has been working with Chinese partners to cap coal consumption by 2020, confirming that China is ready to address its damaging air pollution problems.

China and the US are poised to meet their targets for reducing carbon pollution. Indeed, NRDC analysis shows both countries can clean up even more pollution—and grow their economies, protect people’s health, and shield communities from the hazards of extreme weather at the same time.

NRDC will continue encouraging American and Chinese officials to set more ambitious targets. But today we celebrate this breakthrough. And we thank President Obama and President Xi Jinping for honoring our obligation to provide future generations with a safer, more stable environment.

Photo Credit: US-China Climate Deal/shutterstock

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Nov 16, 2014

It is unclear whether this agreement is good news or bad news.  It gives political cover for executing plans currently in place.  It does not do much to accelerate trends.   So the good news is that it provides good posturing for Paris to bring the ROW on board for a real agreement.  However both countries were already in motion on this and will easily hit those targets in 11 years.  Renewable energy costs continue to decline and growth continues at an astonishing pace.

In china emissions are reaching the point of being unbearable.  The people are getting restless.  Long before any agreements, China committed to being a leader in renewable energy production and consumption.  They have succeded in both and continue on the uptrend.  The costs of healthcare will lag their growth in emissions.  However, as the population grows, the rise in health related costs will be crippling for the country unless they take rapid concerted action very soon.  The Chinese are not stupid, they are doing this and will continue to do so with or without an agreement.

While China has done their part to drive down the cost of renewables, the US and Europe contine to innovate.  With SunPower setting records in PV efficiency, Cree and other US companies pushing the lighting industry forward in LED efficiency, ABB and Siemens leading the way in HVDC technology, Tesla mainstreaming EVs and the new EPA carbon  rules being put into place, it is hard to imagine that we weren’t already on track to hit these targets. 

What could derail the goals are reduced gasoline prices and success of the coal industry in their potent disinformation campaign designed to slow progress in renewables deployment.

Fortunately, NRDC is doing a great job as a counterbalance, working to keep information clear and move programs forward that can accelerate our movement towards a clean energy future.


donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Nov 17, 2014

How does a commitment to increase emissions from these two countries overall become a positive news story? Further there is no legal binding agreement here so what does that tell you about it?

Further regarding the coal use of China, looking at their own numbers from the bureau of stats, coal fired electricity and steel production both increased in China this year (the latter confirmed by the world steel association). That means more coal use. The apparent drop only occured for a short period at the end of that 9 month period and it was based on greenpeace data (via your Guardian link) that did not even look at whether stockpiles were being run down. Domestic coal production increased slightly in the period while imports decreased.

Frances Beinecke's picture
Thank Frances for the Post!
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