US and China’s historic new climate deal: 5 things you need to know

by Kelly Mitchell

November 12, 2014

Chang'an street. The air in Beijing is heavily polluted. Monitoring stations release real-time data on small particulates known as PM2.5. The tiny pollution particles that may result from the burning of fuels in vehicles and power plants can penetrate deep into the lungs.

© Greenpeace / Yin Kuang

Today, in a joint announcement with President Xi Jinping of China, President Obama announced the US would cut climate pollution 26-28% under 2005 levels by 2025, while President Xi announced China would peak emissions around 2030. Heres a quick summary of what this all means…

This is, indeed, a big deal.

Analysts are already calling this announcement historic, and not without reason. Not only are the two biggest emitters in the world coming together to put climate action on the top of the global agenda, this marks the first time the Chinese government has made a concrete international commitment to reduce its emissions. And it comes with an announcement that China will install up to 1000GW of zero-emissions energy by 2030 (almost the size of the entire US power sector).

Climate obstructionists in Congress have long held up China as some kind of boogeyman, claiming US climate action was meaningless because China would burn coal forever. That rhetoric has been stale – and just wrong – for some time, but after todays announcement it doesnt pass the laugh test.

But, its not going to solve the climate crisis by itself.

Every day, were faced with the reality that climate change is already impacting communities across the globe. This crisis only grows more urgent. Todays announcement is a major boost for the political and diplomatic efforts to rein in carbon pollution globally, but it still falls far short of what science says we need to do to avoid climate catastrophe.

Thankfully, both the US and China are capable of much deeper emissions cuts. Greenpeaces Energy Revolution report shows the US could achieve 40% emissions reductions by 2025 (compared to Obama’s announced target of 26-28%). Today’s announcement should only be the floor and not the ceiling of future actions.

You helped make this possible.

In this midst of an absolutely depressing political climate, lets not forget that our movement is winning and growing. 400,000 of us marched in the streets of New York to demand climate action. Solar energy is taking off in a massive way, creating an existential threat to utility companies that built a business model around profiting off fossil fuels. The US coal mining industry is on a death spiral, as people around the globe say no to this outdated fuel. And across the Pacific, the Chinese public is calling for clean air and clean water.

These kind of historic commitments dont happen in a vacuum. They happen when people demonstrate leadership and hold our elected officials accountable.

Climate deniers in Congress will be upset. Who cares?

Climate deniers in Congress and the fossil fuel executives they serve are going to howl about this, but the truth is, their efforts to derail progress on climate change are increasingly irrelevant. The world will move forward on climate action. Today is just another reminder.

What’s next?

Unfortunately, in the absence of a global treaty, these targets are not binding, so we need to use this momentum to push for more ambitious action. Broad majorities of Americans support climate action and clean, renewable energy and many major businesses understand that unchecked global warming poses unacceptable risks to the economy. We can continue building a 100% renewable energy powered economy at the state and local level and generate community-driven climate solutions.

At the federal level, Obama will face an obstructionist Congress, but this announcement makes clear that the President isn’t going to let that stop efforts to address climate change. The Obama administration could do more without Congress, such as reining in agencies like the Department of Interior that are undermining progress on climate change by subsidizing the extraction and export of domestic fossil fuels – whether that’s coal and gas on our public lands or oil in the fragile Arctic.

Kelly Mitchell

By Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell is the Climate and Energy Campaign Director for Greenpeace, based in Chicago. Since 2006, she has worked with activists and organizations across the country to confront corporate polluters and transform U.S. energy policy. She currently leads Greenpeace's campaign for an economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy, pushing some of the largest companies in the world to embrace wind and solar and working alongside communities to develop a just and democratic energy system.

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