U.S., Chinese 'best efforts' on climate may fall short

Widespread praise meets shared agenda, but emissions still growing.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Nov. 12, 2014 at 7:08 AM
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BEIJING, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- U.S. and Chinese leaders Wednesday agreed on a climate agenda to the praise of low-carbon advocates, but it might not be enough to change the energy debate.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, issued a joint declaration on climate targets. For the United States, it said it would make "best efforts" to cut emissions from their 2005 benchmark by 28 percent, while China would put forward a similar effort to "peak early" in terms of how much carbon dioxide its economy emits.

"The United States and China hope that by announcing these targets now, they can inject momentum into the global climate negotiations and inspire other countries to join in coming forward with ambitious actions as soon as possible, preferably by the first quarter of 2015," the joint statement read.

The United States and China are among the world leaders in terms of emissions. Andrew Steer, president and chief executive officer at the World Resources Institute, said it was significant that U.S. and Chinese leaders were standing shoulder-to-shoulder to address climate change.

"It's heartening to see this level of cooperation, with climate change at the top of the agenda for the world's top emitters," he said.

The announcement from Beijing is a prelude to a major international climate conference in Paris and comes on the heels of a U.N. report warning the continued use of fossil fuels was making the effort to fight climate change more difficult.

For U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the joint declaration was a sign leading global economies were ready to embrace a low-carbon future.

"All countries, especially all major economies, [are urged] to follow China and the United States' lead and announce ambitious post-2020 targets as soon as possible, but no later than the first quarter of 2015," he said.

By 2015, the Republican Party in the United States will be in control of both chambers of Congress. Members of the party have pressed the White House to take advantage of oil and gas trends that pro-energy groups like the American Petroleum Institute see as positioning the United States as an "energy superpower."

In Alaska, Mark Begich, a Democrat, is expected to lose his seat to Republican challenger Dan Sullivan, shifting the control of power on Capitol Hill more toward the GOP.

API had described Begich as an "anti-fossil fuel" leader.

For China, its economy is growing steadily. Data from Beijing show crude oil imports were up 18 percent in October year-on-year.

The International Energy Agency, in a report last week, said Chinese national oil companies are the "new big players," controlling about 7 percent of the global crude oil output.

"A critical 'sign of stress' is the failure to transform the energy system quickly enough to stem the rise in energy-related CO2 emissions," it said in its world energy outlook report published Tuesday.

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