China, the U.S., and France: Paris and the Road Ahead

While the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (for short, COP21) officially begins on Monday, November 30th in Paris, the groundwork for a successful outcome and future effort has been laid over the past few years. Along with the United States, France and other major economies, China has played an integral role in building momentum toward a global climate agreement. In the past, some have hesitated because one or another country was said not to be taking action, but that is no longer an issue, and Paris points the way forward to the stronger action needed by all countries.

The U.S.-China Breakthrough

In November of 2014, the U.S. and China jointly announced their post-2020 climate targets for the Paris agreement. As part of the announcement, China made an unprecedented commitment to reach a peak in its carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and make best efforts to peak earlier, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of its energy use to around 20 percent by 2030. This joint statement by the world’s largest emitters helped generate considerable momentum toward enhanced action by countries around the world.

In June of this year, China formalized its peaking and non-fossil targets as part of its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) (English translation starts on page 17), one of over 170 countries’ official contributions for the Paris agreement. China’s INDC set additional targets to reduce the carbon intensity (carbon emitted per unit of GDP) of its economy by 60 to 65 percent, and to increase its forest stock by around 4.5 billion cubic meters, from 2005 levels by 2030.

In September, eleven cities and provinces from across China committed to reach a peak in their carbon emissions before the national goal to peak around 2030. This group accounts for a quarter of China’s urban carbon emissions, roughly equivalent to the total annual carbon emissions of Japan or Brazil.

The following week, Presidents Obama and Xi came together again to announce actions they will take to meet their commitments, and to articulate a common vision for the anticipated agreement in Paris. Both countries stated the need for a successful agreement that ramps up ambition over time, pointing toward a low-carbon transformation of the global economy this century, and a transparent system that will instill confidence that countries will follow through on their commitments.

The Chinese—French Démarche

This signal of convergence was reinforced by China’s November joint statement with France, which stated the countries’ support for taking stock every five years of progress toward long-term climate goals, which “will inform Parties in regularly enhancing their actions”. The statement also emphasized the importance of pre-2020 climate action, technological innovation, and setting long-term national strategies for low-carbon development.

Final steps remain to be taken in Paris to ensure the follow-through on the statements made by the U.S., China, France, and others that prepared the way for COP21. An important part of the implementation is what countries are doing at home and what they are doing together. China has taken significant domestic action on climate change, announced further measures, and is working on including additional steps in its upcoming 13th Five Year Plan, to be released early next year. China and the U.S. are working together on a host of projects announced with their November 2014 announcement and elsewhere. This includes collaboration on a wide array of policies and technologies, such as energy efficiency in buildings, industry, and transportation; clean vehicles; carbon capture, utilization and storage; the energy-water nexus; low-carbon cities; phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs, a potent greenhouse gas); and greenhouse gas emissions data collection and management.

The Road Ahead

Work remains at Paris, but with the action described here, all countries can move forward with confidence that there is momentum for success.

Author Information:
Paul Joffe is WRI’s Senior Foreign Policy Counsel and head of the ChinaFAQs Project.
Geoffrey Henderson is the ChinaFAQs Project Specialist.

Photo credit: Sathish J via Flickr
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