Thursday, November 13, 2014


Today, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Obama made a historic announcement of their respective targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

President Obama pledged in 2009 to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by about 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. To accomplish this, he initiated a number of aggressive plans including promoting better vehicle fuel efficiency standards. Today, he pledged that the United States would cut emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2025. This is on par with the pace with his current plans. Let’s hope the new Congress and Senate won’t break this very important promise to the world.

The Chinese President pledged to peak Chinese CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make every effort to cut back early. This seems not so significant, but it is a very good pledge given that China still has a significantly vested interest in continuing modernization and lifting its people out of poverty. China also pledged to expand zero-emission sources in renewable and nuclear energy to match its current dependency on coal-fired capacity. While dependency on nuclear power is questionable and mere promise to “peak” emission is only as good as the promise, it is commendable that China is at least trying. With one-fifth of the world’s population and a very good model to alleviate poverty but at the high cost of corruption, it is just very difficult to do the right thing when it is very much influenced by the western consumption culture.

China’s goals seem achievable. A 2011 study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests that China is on course to meet this goal and a MIT study with more conservative estimates suggest China has to be aggressive in its policies to meet this goal.

It is unprecedented for the two largest economies, energy consumers and carbon emitters in the world to come together and pledge to work cooperatively. This signaled to the other world leaders to follow in anticipation of the next year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference negotiations in Paris. This is a good sign. We are finally seeing some global vision in moving beyond the climate change denial and doing something about it. For the U.S., it may be our coming to terms with good science and bad politics; for China, this is about necessity. The mounting social pressure and visible air pollutions just is too much for its people to burden.

Mind you, the two nations have also been discussing other economic cooperation and more progressive immigration policies to allow a better exchange for human capital and their expertise. This would encourage a more open exchange of social responsibility and good corporate governance for China and better access to the growing economy for the United States. With these things (environmental incentives, economic opportunities, and corporate governance) reaching for progress and balance between the two nations, the sustainability movement has a chance.

Full speed ahead I say.

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