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China shows US not alone in tackling climate change

Those who reject climate action have been increasingly reluctant to attack the underlying science, as overwhelming evidence points to the need to reduce manmade carbon pollution if we are to stop global warming. Instead, naysayers have adopted another line of argument: that the United States shouldn’t take action because no one else is. A favorite punching bag has been China, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Why should the United States reduce its carbon emissions, naysayers argue, if its main economic rival continues to pollute at will? 

Last Friday, once again, this argument has been shown to be demonstrably false. 

{mosads}During his visit to the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced on Sept. 25, that, in 2017, his country will launch a nationwide cap-and-trade program to cut carbon emissions. China will set a maximum cap on how much carbon dioxide can be emitted, and major emitters (such as electric utilities, and makers of iron, steel, chemicals, building materials, and paper) will then be able to trade pollution permits among themselves. The cap can be progressively lowered, to encourage industries to further cut their emissions.

In a previous agreement with the United States, the Chinese government had already announced that its emissions of greenhouse gases will peak in 2030 at the latest, and that by 2020 it will have cut the amount of carbon it emits for every unit of GDP by at least 40 percent. But the cap-and-trade announcement is the first to commit China to a specific climate action plan. 

Furthermore, China has stepped up to the plate by announcing $3.1 billion for the U.N. Green Climate Fund, which will help developing countries cut their carbon emissions and adapt to the existing impacts of climate change. The Chinese pledge actually exceeds the $3 billion pledged by the Obama Administration, which has yet to be approved by Congress. 

These announcements are important in and of themselves, as China is currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, having surpassed the United States in 2006. But it is also important in that it demonstrates that the United States isn’t in the struggle to combat climate change alone—far from it. 

The Chinese cap-and-trade program will resemble the European Union’s cap-and-trade system, the largest such program in the world. The European Union is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the United States. Its Emissions Trading System covers about 45 percent of the total greenhouse gases emitted by the Union’s 28 member countries. Though it went through some growing pains, the Trading System has teeth: in 2013 alone, it reduced carbon emissions in Europe by at least 3 percent

Clearly, the world’s major carbon emitters are taking climate change seriously. In all, 71 countries, representing 64 percent of global carbon emissions, have made firm commitments to cut their greenhouse gas emissions as part of the process leading to the Paris climate talks in December. 

It is time for climate action naysayers to stop passing the buck. They should either support the Obama administration’s efforts, such as the Clean Power Plan, or propose serious alternatives.

Werner serves as executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) in Washington, DC – a non-profit education and policy organization.


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