Could this be the most important international agreement on climate change to date?

Earlier this year, one of most important international agreements to affect the future of our planet was announced on a sleepy September day. You might have heard about it, though likely it quickly passed you by. On September 25th, the leaders of the two largest economies in the world – and not coincidentally the two largest emitters of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions – agreed to move decisively on implementing strategies needed to meet their ambitious GHG reduction goals announced last year.COMM PA Blog USChina 2015 11

The goals set in November of last year for the U.S. to reduce GHG emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and China to peak emissions by 2030 will require significant action by both countries. While China’s GHG emissions already exceed that of the U.S., China’s GHG emissions per capita – or the emissions associated with each citizen – are less than half of the GHG emissions per capita in the U.S.

China’s main strategies to reach their goal of peaking emissions by 2030 include: 1) the creation of the World’s largest carbon market – a national cap & trade system starting in 2017 covering 60 percent of China’s energy related emissions, 2) a competitive electricity market that prioritizes emissions-free renewables – a move that will continue to empower renewables which In 2013 saw new renewable power capacity in China surpass new fossil fuel and nuclear energy for the first time, 3) requiring half of all new urban buildings to meet green building standards by 2020, 4) accelerating truck efficiency improvements – which consume two-thirds of China’s transportation energy, and 5) empowering cities to take the lead in GHG reductions – resulting in 11 cities in China that represent 1.2 billion metric tons of emissions annually to collaboratively work to develop strategies to reduce their emissions.

The United States commitments to meet our goal of reducing emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 include: 1) strengthening the Clean Power Plan – the recently released plan to reduce electricity emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels through prioritizing lower carbon fossil fuels, renewable energy and energy efficiency in buildings, 2) improving fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks – an opportunity that the Rocky Mountain Institute and Carbon War Room estimates could cost-effectively save the North American trucking industry $40 billion per year while reduce GHG emissions by 20 percent, 3) new efficiency standards for appliances and equipment that will help meet the U.S. goal of avoiding 3 billion metric tons of emissions through efficiency improvements by 2020, and 4) new rules to control methane emissions from landfills and the oil and gas industry as well as other high global warming potential gases such as Hydrofluorocarbons used as refrigerants in air conditioning units.

This agreement represents concrete actions that both countries will take to reduce GHG emissions and will hopefully propel other countries to take similar actions. The global conversation around climate change has finally moved beyond arguing over which countries are the cause of our problems. We are now identifying solutions that reduce GHG emissions while simultaneously improving economies through new low-carbon growth, reducing air and water pollution, and saving businesses and citizens money through the reduction in their energy and fuel costs. Additionally, the two countries have pledged $6 billion in funding to support low-carbon solutions in the developing world.

For the first time, the two largest economies and GHG emitters are actively working together to secure national commitments and develop the solutions that will help us achieve the complete, low-carbon, global transformation by the end of century that we will need if we want to be able to mitigate the most extreme impacts of climate change. Better late than never, we hope. 

Image Credit: USA Today