>Wednesday’s deal between the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) raises the prospect of a robust international agreement in Paris next year. Although the two countries account for over one-third of global GHG emissions, the U.S. and China have for the best part of the last 20 years been hostage to economic arguments to act decisively on global warming. Now, the U.S. has promised to cut emissions by an extent of 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025, which would mark a near-doubling of the current pace of reductions. As for China, President Xi Jinping has pledged that the country’s emissions would peak by around 2030; by that time, solar and wind power would account for 20 per cent of overall energy sources. This is based on projections of a slowdown in economic growth, a phase-out of obsolete power plants and a rise in the share of renewables. In the absence of further details, environment experts and activists remain unsure of the full implications of the latest agreement. But the political significance of the agreement is clearly beyond doubt. The latest announcements represent a huge advance over the entrenched positions held by the two countries until recently. Washington did not ratify the lone legally-binding global pact to cut emissions — the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — as it opposed the view that developed and developing countries had differentiated responsibilities on countering global warming. Beijing was exempted from the requirements of the Protocol in view of its status as a developing country.
The proposals presented by the U.S. and China follow the announcement last month of a 40 per cent reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 for the entire European Union. Together, the package from these three main players would create the momentum for other major high carbon footprint countries to come up with matching commitments ahead of upcoming talks in Lima and a final deal in Paris. Notable among these are India, Indonesia, Australia and Brazil. In the meantime, President Barack Obama would have to sell the deal to a Republican-dominated Congress, with its share of climate-sceptics. The leaders of the Group of 20 countries meeting in Brisbane this weekend should act on their commitment to reduce subsidies for the further exploration of oil, gas and coal. The September 2014 report of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate also makes a strong case against the prevailing high subsidies regime. Beijing and Washington should exert their considerable clout to realise this objective at the earliest. Such an effort would be consistent with their pledge to increase reliance on renewable energy.