U.S.-China Climate Deal Paves Way for More Ambitious Agreement in Paris

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WASHINGTON — The U.S.-China climate agreement is the most significant breakthrough in international climate talks in the last decade. It has transformed the tone of negotiations ahead of the U.N. meeting in Paris next year, where 194 countries and the EU have pledged to sign an agreement to reduce emissions that is meaningful and legally binding to all parties.

Announcing their goals jointly and earlier than expected sent a strong message that the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases are serious about leading on climate change. It also signals to developing countries such as India and Brazil that they must shoulder greater responsibility.

The timing of the agreement, coming just before the G20 talks in Brisbane where Australia aimed to keep climate off the agenda, pushed the issue onto the table. It also spurred momentum for the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom to announce much-needed contributions to the Green Climate Fund. These commitments are expected to snowball into greater cooperation and ambition at this December’s climate talks in Lima and next December’s talks in Paris.

The goals are ambitious, yet achievable. The United States can meet its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 under existing laws; China’s pledge to cap emissions by around 2030 is better than no cap; and China’s second goal to increase non-fossil fuels to 20 percent of total energy consumption by 2030 is very ambitious, requiring China to add in clean energy at nearly the total amount of energy it currently generates, but within fifteen years.

While there is still a lot to be accomplished in the next year, the U.S.-China deal could serve as the catalyst for improving the world’s best and possibly last opportunity to achieve widely inclusive, yet effective global climate governance.

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