The US-China emissions reduction deal announced last week after nine months of negotiations between the two countries has been variously hailed a “game changer”, a “breakthrough”, “massive”.
The numbers and the time frame tell a very different story, writes Jonathan Neale.
Obama of the United States and Xi of China have signed a bilateral climate agreement. Much of the media have hailed the deal as a key step forward. In fact, it is an appalling deal. Let’s look at the numbers.
The US has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. But 2005 was the highest year ever for US emissions. They have already declined 10% in 8 years. Obama is promising that they will decline another 18% in 15 years.
China has agreed to reach peak emissions by 2030. Chinese economic growth has been running at 10% a year. If that growth continued, Chinese emissions in 2030 would be four times what they are now. But economic growth will not continue at that level, and there will be some progress in energy efficiency. Still, this is a promise to roughly double Chinese emissions by 2030.
The US and China between them produce almost half the world’s CO2 emissions (45%). If the US cuts 18% and China doubles emissions, their combined emissions will increase by more than a third.
But it’s worse. Because even if they cut emissions in half, they would still be increasing the amount of CO2 in the air each year. They would be warming the planet. Instead, they are increasing the amount of CO2 they put in the air each year. They are promising to warm the planet faster each year.
But it’s even worse. After another 15 years of increased emissions, we will have to cut even more deeply to get back where we started. Even if they reduce emissions as fast as they increased them, we will only get back to the current level of emissions some time after 2040. And where we are now is, everyone agrees, unacceptable.
But it’s still worse than that. These are only promises. Nothing will hold them to these promises. And they are promises about 2030. They are not promises to cut global emissions by even 1% next year.
And the worst thing of all is: this is a deal between the US and China. Two men, from two countries, are taking all the decisions for the world. They are confident that all the other countries, and all seven billion of us, will fall into line.
Their staff negotiated this deal in secret. The whole panoply of UN negotiations over climate, the Kyoto treaty, all those meetings and experts and negotiations, are redundant. The president of the United States and the president of China will decide the fate of the world. And they have made the wrong decision.
This is why the Campaign against Climate Change campaigns for One Million Climate Jobs, real investment in jobs that can reduce emissions and create unemployment. As Naomi Klein says, we need “mass social movements” to act on climate change.
It’s why we, together with others, are building towards major protests on 7 March and at the Paris Conference of the Parties [to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in 2015.
[Jonathan Neale is International Coordinator of the Campaign against Climate Change. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared at the group’s website].