By Walker Rowe

When it comes to forging international agreements the U.S. and Europe are oceans apart from China and Russia in their politics. At the UN, when there is the need for unanimity on the Security Council for action China and Russia are known to be at odds with the West’s decisions.

Fortunately, the Paris Climate Agreement broke with this tradition: China and the US jointly set the precedents. Not only was China a signatory, but it actively promoted the agreement, moving ahead of Japan and Europe.

The agreement is pending ratification from countries that make up 55 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Getting the United States and China on board is essential as they account for 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

The 2015 Paris agreement seeks to limit global warming by 2030 to only 2 degrees Celsius, and hold steady through 2100. Because the planet has warmed 1 degrees since the Industrial Age, it’s  ambitious to seek such a limited cap.

On Earth Day, the  United States, China, and 173 other countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement. President Barack Obama said the agreement is not a “treaty” and does not need congressional ratification. Europe and Japan are awaiting legislative approval of the agreement and have not yet ratified it.

This agreement is nonbinding, meaning violators cannot be hauled before a tribunal. Individual governments are committing to targets in their five-year plans. But, it will take some time for the lumbering hulk of the world’s economies to change course to effectively reduce greenhouse gasses.

Developing nations might not be able to do even that. Countries with more buoyant economies have pledged to help developing nations. China has committed $3 billion to the South-South Climate Cooperation Fund.

China can already take credit for curbing the amount of greenhouse gases belching from its plants, factories, and mines. The country ordered more than 1,000 coal mines to shut down and cut coal-burning by 8 percent, according to Greenpeace.  

Much of China’s emissions are  due to methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons and other gases that come from burning natural gas, vehicle emissions, and other sources.

Global warming is caused by releasing carbon dioxide and other gasses into the atmosphere. These are called “greenhouse” because they work like a greenhouse, warming up everything underneath it. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the biggest polluter. It gets released when coal and oil are burned. Coal and oil are created by from millions of years of plant decay. Because they hold carbon, they are called a carbon sink.

Planting trees can put carbon back into the ground. China says it will increase its forests by 4.5 billion cubic meters to reduce carbon dioxide.

Burning coal to make electricity is 80 percent of China’s carbon problem. Normalizing alternate power sources like the sun and wind is a significant step toward reducing carbon emissions.

China has agreed that 20 percent of its energy will be derived from alternate sources by 2030. The National Resources Defense Council reports such a reduction is equal to all of the electricity produced in the United States. They also state that China is home to 40 percent of the world’s renewal energy projects. China’s also plans to adopt a cleaner public transit system, and building more energy efficient buildings.

To reduce emissions, China has a carbon cap and trade exchange market like the United States, requiring a company to buy permits for its emissions. If it costs too much to install an expensive filter on a copper smelter to meet regulations, then a company can buy emission permits from a cleaner company with excess permits.  The total number of permits across the market are capped so that pollution is capped in the aggregate.

Environmentalists are singing the praises of the Paris Climate Agreement saying they will do much more than the previous 1997 Kyoto Protocol.  Business railed against Kyoto then and at the time there was less-consensus on the urgency of global warming. Now the world powers have heard the environmentalist’s cry, the sky will fall if we fail to act.


About the Author: This piece was originally published in China-US Focus. Walker Rowe publishes Southern Pacific Review, where he writes the blog The Avocado Republic about life in rural Chile. Follow him on Twitter at @WERowe.

Posted by Walker Rowe