This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.


Why The U.S.-China CO2 Deal Is An Energy, Climate, And Political Gamechanger

Joseph Romm's picture
American Progress
  • Member since 2018
  • 1,651 items added with 350,589 views
  • Nov 14, 2014

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The historic new U.S.-China climate deal changes the trajectory of global carbon pollution emissions, greatly boosting the chances for a global deal in Paris in 2015. The deal would keep, cumulatively, some 640 billion tons of CO2 emissions out of the air this century, according to brand new analysis by Climate Interactive and MIT, using their C-ROADS model.

The U.S.-China deal is truly a gamechanger. In fact, you could make a strong case that prior to this deal, neither the U.S. or China were seriously in the game of trying to stave off climate catastrophe. Now both countries are.

When you add the recent European Union (EU) pledge to cut total emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, we now have countries representing more than half of all global emissions making serious commitments — and that in turn puts pressure on every other country. If the developing countries were to all follow China’s lead, and the non-EU developed countries follow ours, a 2015 global deal would slash carbon pollution this century by a whopping 2500 billion tons of CO2 (see figure below).

China deal

The Chinese commitment to more than double carbon-free electricity generation is also a gamechanger. It guarantees that the recent explosive growth — and amazing price drops — experienced by renewables like solar and wind will continue for decades to come. And that means the long-predicted ascendance of carbon-free energy has now begun in earnest.

Finally, the political implications of this deal can’t be overstated. Conservatives have been attacking EPA climate standards as government over-reach that supposedly harms the U.S. economy, while assuring us over and over and over again that the world’s biggest polluter (China) won’t act. That attack has not merely been rendered impotent. Now efforts to stop EPA can clearly be seen for what they really are — an effort to kill any deal with China and stop the nations of the world from coming together to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Thanks to this deal, any politician who says the U.S. can’t meet EPA carbon pollution standards is saying that the U.S. can’t deploy even a fraction of the carbon-free electricity the Chinese just told the entire world they are going to build in the next 15 years!

Underscoring the bilateral deal’s importance, Chinese President Xi Jinping himself joined Obama in the U.S.-China Joint Announcement that “China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early.” That by itself is a political game changer, which eviscerates the right-wing mantra of delay: “China will never act and so nothing we do matters.”

No doubt you’re shocked, shocked to learn the leader of the Senate do-nothing caucus, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has already said he is “particularly distressed” by this deal because it supposedly “requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years.” Not!

In fact, Melanie Hart, the Director for China Policy at the Center for American Progress, explains, “The pattern of major energy price reforms already underway in China demonstrates they are already doing the hard work needed to make this [peak] happen.” The Chinese have already started to work toward a CO2 peak, which is no surprise since this deal will require them to take massive action — hence, their other game-changing commitment to “increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.”

This energy pledge alone “will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar, and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 — more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.”

This pledge is a statement to the world by China that renewables are ready to ramp up sharply! By itself, this pledge ensures that the ascendance of carbon-free energy over fossil fuels is irreversible. No wonder the pro-pollution crowd is “particularly distressed”!

Adding to their distress, Obama announced “a new target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.” That roughly doubles the rate of decline Obama has committed the country to with his previous target of a 17 percent cut by 2020.


CREDIT: White House

This is a challenging target under existing law and doubly so given the anti-science makeup of the incoming Congress. It sets up the next Congressional session and the 2016 Presidential election as an epic battle between the forces who want to avert climate catastrophe and those who want to keep the fossil fuel Ponzi scheme going an extra decade or two — even if it means ruining a livable climate for our children and grandchildren and for centuries to come!

Ironically, in post-election analysis on Fox News last week, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said of the President:

“I think the one item he could negotiate, and I’m serious about this, climate change. That’s the one where if we and China could agree it would make a difference…. If he gets an agreement with China, which he won’t, but that’s the one area it would be historic.”

It’s worth noting that the U.S. commitment is for a cut in greenhouse gas emissions, which includes CO2 and methane. That means it is even more crucial than ever we correctly account for methane leaks, so that we are actually meeting this new target and not just replacing easy-to-measure CO2 emissions from coal with hard-to-measure methane emissions from natural gas production. Also, since Russian gas is leakier than ours, China should pledge to help Russia sharply reduce their leaks.

Bottom Line: The U.S.-China deal greatly increases the chance of a global agreement in Paris next December that shifts the world close to an emissions path that can stabilize CO2 levels and keep total warming as close to 2°C (3.6°F) as possible. It ensures that carbon-free energy will be the dominant new energy source in the coming decades. Climate activists certainly share in this achievement, but will need continued vigilance. The anti-science forces in this country have already lined up against it, and the road to actual stabilization at non-dangerous CO2 levels is a very long one.

Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Nov 14, 2014

I’m sorry, wishing this were true.  Unfortunately in the wake of the Republican push for XL which will mainly supply China I cannot see these goals being met!  More hot air I’m afraid.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Nov 14, 2014


I think both leaders committed to what is going happen anyway. 

China may have coal, but the quality is poor, so they import a lot from Australia, and they don’t have a lot of oil. Shale efforts so far have not had much success from what I hear.

In the U.S., the rollout of solar and wind, together with higher and higher CAFE, Energy Star appliances, LED lights, and replacement of coal with gas etc will drive emissions downward anyway. Plus California, a big chunk of the U.S. economy, has AB 32 in place.

I don’t see that anyone signed up for any pain. Unfortunately, without a little pain, there isn’t much gain.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 15, 2014

“…without a little pain, there isn’t much gain.”

Not necessarily.  It is possible that China’s new generation of domestically built nuclear plants will produce electricity cheaper than coal (especially if coal’s growing external cost is included).  That would allow them to meet their commitments without any pain, and it would provide a pain-free path for the rest of the developing world too.  There will be pain however when the US and Australia try to sell our dirty coal on the international market, and are told “no thanks, we’ll save money by buying Chinese nuclear technology instead”.

The coal industry desparately needs to get Europe to accellerate its nuclear phase-out (and get the US to turn away from gas fracking), or its game-over for them.

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

I completely agree.  I don’t even think much pain is required.  In the US, for example, a little nudge from the feds to accelerate the build-out of HVDC to bring great plains wind to load centers, combined with time of use metering would have a dramatic impact on emissions over the 11 year period.

Pieter Siegers's picture
Pieter Siegers on Nov 22, 2014

OK so tell us about your invention!

Pieter Siegers's picture
Pieter Siegers on Nov 22, 2014

As always, price drops don’t come at a steady rate, there are too many factors playing a role.

“The price of solar photovoltaic cells has dropped 99% in the past quarter century.”

Just check this graph:

Do you need more awesome facts to believe what renewables like solar power can do for us?

Pieter Siegers's picture
Pieter Siegers on Nov 22, 2014

Let’s hope it’s game over soon for the coal industry including any other fossil fuel. We don’t need them if we want a thriving planet.

Pieter Siegers's picture
Pieter Siegers on Nov 22, 2014

You should understand that different forces are behind the fossil fuel industry, and on the other side the clean energy industry. Or better said, the political forces that try to maintain status quo against a new wave of politicians that favor clean energy.

This is why we see every now and then some pretty oppository decisions from subsequent bigger nations as the facts about climate change become more appearant.

Once we understand what the relation actually is between these (and other) industries and politicians (meaning their long term assets in these undustries) we see why the two sides are in an increasing fight about what is next to come.

Most conservatives hold on to current energy forms because they see it work for them and accept the high price; they are blind people and are not able to understand their efforts are destroying bit by bit literally everything on this planet. Ignorance is a big factor in the thinking of these people.

The progress is with the ones that see things need to change and actually take action to make these changes happen. These people are open minded and are what our planet urgently needs. These people see what’s happening and know what should change right now. These are the people with a future for them and for generations to come.

Luckily the open minded people group is growing. We are moving in the correct direction, but still very slowly.


Joseph Romm's picture
Thank Joseph for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »