Follow-Ups on US-China Climate Deal: What’s the Impact?

As has been widely reported this past week, on Nov 12 the U.S. and China jointly announced new carbon emissions targets. Under the terms of the agreement, United States would cut its carbon emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels before the year 2025, doubling its current pace of carbon reduction of 1.2% per year and increasing its current target of a 17% emissions cut by 2020.

China agreed to begin reducing carbon emissions by 2030, with a possibility of reaching that goal sooner.  It marks the first time that China has agreed to a carbon emissions peak, says the White House. It also set a goal of increasing the share of alternative energy to 20% of the country’s energy mix by 2030, an addition of 800-1,000 gigawatts, exceeding that provided by all of China’s coal-fired power plants now and the equivalent of the total electricity generation of the U.S.

The deal includes projects and incentives for wind and solar in both countries and a continuation their cooperation and investment in carbon capture technologies.

(See CleanTechIQ’s New Venture Funds Focused on Asia Cleantech)

A Furthering of China’s Commitment

In September, China announced plans to start a national carbon-trading market by 2016, as part of its goal to cut emissions by 45% before 2020 from 2005 levels.

And its government has also recently begun discussing a cap on coal-use as part of a new five-year plan.

China is a big proponent of rooftop solar systems. It expects to install as much as 8 gigawatts of distributed solar systems in 2014, more than 10 times what was built last year, Businessweek reports.

China’s National Energy Administration introduced policies, including extra subsidies, in September aimed at spurring installations of rooftop solar power.

And U.S.-based public solar panel manufacturer SunEdison (SUNE) is in talks with a Chinese partner to build a $2 billion factory producing polysilicon, used in PV solar panels, in the country and agreed last month to jointly create a $220 million fund with Chinese fund manager JIC Capital to develop as much as 1 gigawatt of solar projects there, says Bloomberg. SunEdison also plans to expand into building and operating solar power plants, and is considering launching a yieldco that focuses on entering markets such as Asia and Africa.

(See CleanTechIQ’s Under Smog-Darkened Skies, China Declares War—on Pollution)

Getting Others to Follow Suit

European Union leaders said that the new climate agreement between the U.S. and China will provide an important boost to negotiations on a global climate treaty at the international climate conference in Paris in late 2015, says the Washington Post.

Former under secretary at the U.S. DOE David Sandalow had this to say about the agreement in a separate Washington Post Q&A:

“It sends a signal to the world. Other countries will look at this and say, ‘We need to think seriously about our policies.’ India, for example, is working on its climate policies now. So, the announcement has good timing. (Indians I spoke with today report that) the Prime Minister is very serious about clean energy. He wrote a book called Convenient Action.”

In a Bloomberg piece, Jake Schmidt, director of international programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, had this to say about the U.S. -China agreement: “They shape how the market invests,” he said. “They’ve also been two of the most difficult players in the history of the climate negotiations so the fact that they are coming out and saying they are going to take deep commitments will be a powerful signal to the rest of the world.”

And Ken Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that the agreement can help put the world on “a straight path to 80% reductions in emissions over 2005 levels by 2050” if other countries follow suit with similar commitments, according to the LA Times.

(See CleanTechIQ’s Chinese Demand Action on Environment, Sparking Investment and Policies)

The Critics

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is widely expected to assume the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January, called the new climate agreement “hollow and not believable.”  He went on to say, “The United States will be required to more steeply reduce our carbon emissions while China won’t have to reduce anything,” according to the Post.

And according to The New York Times, scientists say that 2030 may be too long to wait for China to begin reducing emissions if the world is to keep the average global temperature from rising more 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average, which is commonly regarded as necessary to avoid dangerous effects of climate change.

Scientists believe that the pledge may just be a “business as usual” date when emissions are expected to level off anyway. This notion is supported by a 2011 study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which states that China’s emissions are set to peak around 2030 with an annual output of 12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, says the Times.

China Leader’s Hope

But there are some reasons that the Chinese leader may be sincere in his pledge to reduce emissions:

The LA Times reported that during a welcome meeting for foreign dignitaries last Monday night, China’s President Xi Jinping told an audience that he was checking the air quality in Beijing each morning and “hoping that the smog won’t be too bad so that our distinguished guests will be more comfortable.”

He also added “My hope is that every day we will see a blue sky, green mountains and clear rivers, not just in Beijing, but all across China so that our children will live in an enjoyable environment.”

Tags: Policy , Solar

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