There is general agreement that the climate change deal between the U.S. and China is “historic”. Consider the headlines:
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions said the joint announcement is “an extremely hopeful sign” and will help get other countries on board.
“For too long it’s been too easy for both the U.S. and China to hide behind one another,” said the center’s president, Bob Perciasepe.
“People on both sides pointed to weak action abroad to delay action at home. This announcement hopefully puts those excuses behind us. We’ll only avert the worst risks of climate change by acting together.”
At first glance, it may sound unfair that China does not have to start actually reducing its emissions yet while the U.S. has to reduce emissions even more steeply than it has already planned. That’s certainly what Republicans will say.
They will be wrong. Thanks to our longstanding development and wealth, the U.S. has produced 29.3 percent of global cumulative carbon emissions, while China has been responsible for only 7.6 percent. What China is planning — starting on a path of renewable development, so that it can transition from fossil fuels as quickly as possible without damaging economic growth — lays out a model for emerging economies such as India, Brazil, and Indonesia to follow.
Likewise, the U.S. is sending a message to those countries, and to the pro-fossil fuel governments in Canada and Australia, that we are serious about putting climate at the center of our international relationships. The U.S. and China have also struck deals to reduce tariffs while Obama has been in Beijing. Other nations should take note that Obama is seeking climate cooperation from our trading partners, and they should feel the pressure to step up.
Bill McKibben agrees that the deal is “historic” as he critiques it with ten points in his Huffington Post article “The Big Climate Deal: What it is, and What it isn’t”:
8) It’s not, in any way, a stretch goal. These numbers are easy — if you were really being cynical, you could say they’re trying to put a floor under the retreat from carbon, to manage a retreat from fossil fuels instead of really putting carbon on the run. The Germans, for instance, will be moving in on 60 percent of their energy from clean sources by the mid-2020s, when we’ll still be cutting carbon emissions by small increments.
9) It is — and this is the real key — a reminder that movements work. President Obama first endorsed the 80 percent by 2050 goal he enshrined in this pact when he was running for president in 2007, a week after 1,400 demonstrations around the nation demanded that goal. This comes seven weeks after by far the largest global climate demonstrations in history, and amidst ongoing unrest in China about the filthy air in its cities.
10) It isn’t, in other words, a reason to slack off a bit in the ongoing fight for a livable climate, a fight our civilizations are in great danger of losing. If we want this to be a start, and not a finish, we’ve got to build even bigger and more powerful movements that push the successors of these gentlemen to meet what science demands. Today’s an achievement for everyone who’s held a banner, signed a petition, and gone to jail — and a call for many more to join us going forward!
Susan Stephenson, Executive Director of Interfaith Power & Light is asking “people of faith” to thank President Obama, even as she states that more work is needed:
These actions alone are not nearly enough, friends – but they signal a hopeful chapter in global climate negotiations and represent the progress we can make over the next two years if President Obama remains committed.