U.S.-China climate plan unprecedented, but U.S. Prez must do more
By: Barbara Vergetis Lundin, FierceEnergy
Published: November 13, 2014
As greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the United States and China account for 40 percent of the world's emissions, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have announced an historic agreement to curb the emissions from these two countries. The U.S. will reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. China has agreed to clean up its fast growing economy to reach peak emissions by no later than 2030.
"Accelerating our country's energy productivity gains -- that is, growing the amount of GDP created per unit of energy consumed -- will be key to meeting these ambitious goals in a way that will simultaneously advance our nation's prosperity," said Kateri Callahan, Alliance to Save Energy president.
In the U.S., doubling energy productivity between now and 2030 could yield more than $300 billion in energy savings while boosting GDP and creating more than one million new jobs, according to modeling performed for the Alliance, all while lowering carbon dioxide emissions by a third compared to 2005, which would meet the new U.S. commitment.
Many U.S. states are already at the forefront of deploying energy efficiency to decrease GHG emissions and improve local economies through building codes, utility programs, innovative financing and other policies. The President's Climate Action Plan has placed efficiency at the forefront by furthering vehicle and appliance standards, reducing efficiency investment barriers, supporting new technologies, and facilitating private actions through Better Buildings, Energy Star and other programs.
"From attic insulation to Nobel Prize-winning LED advances, and from smart cars to innovative finance and business models, the opportunities to meet the new emissions goal while also and importantly growing the U.S. economy are tremendous if we focus on increasing our energy productivity," said Callahan. "As the two largest economies in the world look for ways to meet their climate commitments, the Alliance urges Xi and Obama to use energy efficiency first and foremost as it is the proven quickest, most easily deployable, most abundant and most cost-effective means of reducing GHG emissions."
Chinese energy-efficiency programs, policies and standards for buildings, transport, utilities and industry, are growing, according to the International Energy Agency, amounting to more than $100 billion in energy-efficiency investments during the 2006-2010 Five-Year Plan and forecast to exceed $200 billion in the 2011-2015 Plan.
"The announcement of the historic bilateral deal between the US and China is a significant and positive step for the global negotiations towards a new international agreement in Paris in December 2015, and is founded on a commitment to growing the use of clean energy technologies and resources," said Business Council for Sustainable Energy President Lisa Jacobson. "Investments in [energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy sectors] over the past six years has already led to a transformation of the U.S. energy landscape and put the U.S. more than half-way towards a 17 percent GHG emissions reduction target by 2020, based on a 2005 baseline that the Obama Administration adopted in 2008. China's commitment to diversify its energy portfolio to include 20 percent from zero-emissions sources will also be a significant investment opportunity for U.S. clean energy businesses."
Friends of the Earth isn't as positive, pointing out that while the U.S.-China announcement creates important political momentum internationally, it falls short of the aggressive reductions needed to prevent climate disruption.
The U.S. emissions reduction target "is grounded in neither the physical reality of climate science nor the lived reality of hundreds of millions of people in developing countries whose lives and livelihoods are in jeopardy due to drought, flooding, fire and other extreme weather events," said Friends of the Earth U.S. President Erich Pica. "Simply put, the non-binding target falls miserably short of what science, justice and equity demand."
Further, he said, "the announcement is silent on the U.S. commitment to adaptation, technology transfer and climate finance in regards to the rest of the world. These commitments are fundamental for a meaningful climate agreement in Paris in 2015."
Although the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) welcomes the dialogue between the U.S. and China, it recognizes that more than just talk is needed.
"We're seeing the emergence of an enormously positive new dynamic between the U.S. and China: bilateral cooperation that includes specific actions within each country," said EDF President Fred Krupp. "As we look ahead to the Paris climate talks in late 2015, this level of cooperation between the two largest emitting nations is unprecedented -- and essential. But more leadership will be needed. The focus between now and the Paris meeting should be to ensure that commitments from the U.S., China and all countries are equal to the urgency and magnitude of the problem."
Pica agrees, adding that the first litmus test of how serious the U.S. is about success in Paris will come during the Green Climate Fund pledging session later this month.
"Looking ahead toward the 2016 presidential race, I hope that this pledge becomes a very low floor for presidential aspirants and not a ceiling for what is possible in the United States," Pica said. "Using executive authority, the President can and must go further by denying new fossil fuel leases, rejecting the Keystone pipeline and regulating other forms of greenhouse gas emissions."