Was this the cause of the Paris Agreement?

Obama and Xi Jinping ahead of the COP21 climate summit. Photo credit: Reuters / Kevin Lamarque.
By Anders Lorenzen

Towards the end of 2014, China signed an ambitious climate deal with the US. This marked the first time that China had ever committed to any carbon reduction plans. While the Paris Agreement was significant and groundbreaking, many argue that it was, in fact, this earlier China and US deal that paved the way to the later Agreement.

Here we give you a flashback to what was agreed in 2014:

The deal
President Obama, deeply engaged in forging a global climate treaty in Paris, signed a historic first climate deal between China and the US. While the wording was vague, commentators praised the achievement and said that this could be a major contributing factor towards a Paris Agreement.

The deal demonstrated greater US ambition in terms of policy, and it set a new target for their GHG reductions.  The US committed that by 2025 they would have reduced their emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels, and this was up from their previous target of 17% by 2020. China’s President, Xi Jinping, said that China’s emissions would peak in 2030 while the non-fossil fuel share of all energy should be 20%.

This was the first time that China had agreed to peak emissions and the first time that they had committed to any time scale in their climate efforts.

According to the White House, the US and China, climate deal was the result of months of bilateral dialogue. And the deal highlighted the critical role the world’s two biggest economies must play in addressing climate change. Their actions were made with the aim of injecting momentum into the global climate negotiations. We now know that this culminated in the first-ever global deal on climate change, signed in Paris, 12th of December 2015.

At the time, the White House said that these new commitments from the US would double their yearly emissions reductions efforts, from 1.2% between 2005 – 2020, to 2.3% – 2.8% between 2020 -2025. Those reductions will keep the US on track to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. The targets were formally delivered to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in the first quarter of 2015 and represented US’s national contribution.

First ever legal climate change commitment from China
The White House also stated that the joint agreement marked the first time China has put a date on the peak of its CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the US expected that China would succeed in emission peaks before 2030. This is due to its broad economic reform program that plans to address air pollution and the implementation of President Xi’s call for an energy revolution. We  now know that this theory has only been strengthened.

China’s target to achieve 20% of non-fossil fuels by 2030 is notable, the White House stated. It will require 800 to 1000 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity in solar, wind and nuclear and other zero emission capacity. This capacity is more than all Chinese coal power stations in operations today, and it is close to the total electricity generating capacity in the US. And there is evidence to suggest that the clean energy revolution is well underway in China. Last month it emerged that China is nearing an installed renewable energy capacity of one terawatt (TW) or a 1000 gigawatts (GW).

The new US targets depend on Obama’s several climate policies, with his most significant policy, the Clean Power Plan, having been finalised last year. This means that for the first time in US history, existing and new power plants will be regulated. Earlier measures to introduce new Heavy
Duty Engines and Vehicles Efficiency Standards will come into effect this year. New Energy Efficiency Standards, by which the Department of Energy will seek to reduce carbon emissions by three billion metric tons by 2030 through energy conservation, are also a major contributing factor to increased US ambition.

However the stability of US climate policies going forward is vulnerable, 2016 being a US election year., All eyes will be on who the next US President will be. Almost every Republican running for the presidency will seek to fight Obama’s regulations.

China has in recent years become more willing to discuss action on climate change, in the wake of the historically high level of air pollution that threatens human life. Chinese lawmakers have pledged to ban the use of coal in Beijing by 2017.

But with the US deal, and with other significant announcements, China has gone that extra step by putting a timetable on the future of coal usage and by scaling up renewables. Commentators claim that this could have been the key action that convinced world leaders to agree the world’s first global climate treaty in Paris last year.

Related news:

Editorial: We must see Paris as the beginning and not the end

The world reacts to the Paris Agreement

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