US-China Deal Could Pave Way for More Climate Commitments

In an historic climate change agreement, the world’s two biggest polluters — the United States and China — announced that they will work together to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

For the first time, China stated that they will peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner. It’s also the first time the US has made a commitment to further reduce its emissions of carbon pollution beyond the 17 percent by 2020 goal that President Obama set a few years ago in Copenhagen.

Both of these commitments are highly significant and should spur other countries to make greater commitments as well. For many years, the reluctance of the United States and China to act has been an oft-used excuse by other countries to avoid cutting their own emissions of carbon pollution.

In fact, many in the US Congress have resisted taking action because they argued that China wasn’t. And to avoid making their own commitments, many Chinese leaders have long used the same argument about the United States. This very public and early agreement by the two largest national emitters in the world should help break the long-standing logjam in international negotiations.

We’re still waiting for the details, but so far it appears that both goals are achievable, largely by maintaining policies already set in each country. President Obama’s efforts to invest in clean energy, to improve fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and the pending EPA regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant will all help achieve his original 2020 target, and continue reducing emissions beyond that.

China has already been making major investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, as a way to reduce their terrible air pollution, achieve greater energy security and grow their market share within the exponentially growing clean energy sector, worth trillions over the coming decades.

The US and China also announced a series of cooperative efforts — to develop carbon capture and sequestration technology for coal-burning power plants (the jury is still out on whether this can be done economically), phasing out HFC’s (a highly potent greenhouse gas), working together to design low-carbon cities (particularly important in China, which is going to be building dozens of new cities in the next few decades — this deal should help them construct lower polluting cities from the ground up), and promote greater international trade in green products and technologies.

All of these efforts should help each country reduce its own emissions and move the international negotiations forward.

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