Can we build on the US-China climate change agreement?

By Tim Collard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 3, 2014
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Representatives attend the opening meeting of the plenary session of the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP 20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima, capital of Peru, Dec. 1, 2014.

Among the wide-ranging diplomatic achievements of November's intensive spell of Chinese diplomacy, one of the most significant in the long term may have been the China-U.S. climate change agreement announced between Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama on Nov. 12. Whatever the long-term effects of this agreement may be - and we all know how difficult it is to predict the future over a period of 20+ years - the pact indicates both sides' willingness to contribute to the proximate objective: a worldwide agreement which it is hoped can be finalized in Paris in December 2015.

As we are all aware, previous attempts at a global climate change agreement have failed because of the split between developed and developing countries. The former have already industrialized, derived benefits from industrialization, and are now in a strong position to counter the negative side effects. Meanwhile, developing countries have lagged far behind in industrialization and fear that tight emissions control targets may prevent them from ever catching up, a situation which they obviously cannot accept.

The United States has always led the developed world. One recent change is that the developing world is increasingly led in this context by China, owing to the country's rapid industrial development and growing economic power. China represents the case of the developing world at its strongest: its industries have grown exponentially, so the country has thus simultaneously become one of the largest polluters and one of the greatest victims of pollution.

Obviously, China and her neighbours in the developing world will need to be able to maintain the momentum of development while working to decrease emissions. This has been a concern of successive Chinese governments since 1990. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli told the U.N. Summit in September that China would seek to bring emission growths to a standstill as early as possible. Zhang's statement has now been taken forward to a dated commitment, the first time China has ever made such a promise.

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