U.S.-China Accord Includes Important Steps on Non-Fossil Energy

The U.S.-China joint announcement on climate change is an historic milestone to limit carbon pollution. This agreement between the world’s two top economies, which together emit nearly 45 percent of the planet’s carbon pollution1, is a big deal.

For the first time, President Xi is pledging to peak China’s carbon emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early. And President Obama has pledged to achieve up to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2025, which is also ambitious.2 The U.S. will need to find another 700-800 million tons of carbon reductions above and beyond proposed policies.

While this is not a legally binding agreement, it sends a strong signal internationally that the U.S. and China are working together in the lead-up to this year’s climate talks in Paris in order to reach a strong global agreement.

It is also a positive step forward in the complex U.S.-China relationship that both leaders agree that climate change and clean energy are areas where China and the U.S. can work collaboratively and productively together. This is a good sign for the long-term health of U.S.-China relations.

In addition to the pledge to achieve peak carbon emissions by around 2030, China also set a goal of increasing the share of non-fossil fuels to around 20 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030.3 Building on the current goal of 15 percent by 2020, the 2030 goal is significant. It implies that 800-1,000 GW of new renewables, hydro, and nuclear capacity must be added in China between now and 2030—close to the entire installed capacity of all types of power plants in the U.S.4 This commitment sends a clear signal to financial markets that global renewable energy investments will see massive growth. A final issue is the ambition level of China’s 20% non-fossil energy goal. Based on early results of a few studies, this could translate into a 50-60% share for zero-carbon electricity (renewables, hydro, and nuclear power) in China by 2030.5 For a country which currently relies on coal for roughly three quarters of its power generation, this target is nothing short of transformational. The only other major economy with such an ambition is Germany, which has a target to achieve 40-45% of renewable power by 2025 and 55-60% by 2035.6

1. http://cait2.wri.org/wri/Country%20GHG%20Emissions?indicator[]=Total%20CO2%20Emissions%20Excluding%20Land-Use%20Change%20and%20Forestry&year[]=2011&country[]=China&country[]=United%20States&country[]=World&sortDir=desc&chartType=geo
2. FACT SHEET: U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation, White House Office of the Press Secretary (November 11, 2014) http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/11/fact-sheet-us-china-joint-announcement-climate-change-and-clean-energy-c
3. FACT SHEET: U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation
4. FACT SHEET: U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation
5. “Reinventing Fire: China”, Energy Research Institute, Rocky Mountain Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (forthcoming); “China’s High Penetration Renewable Energy Scenario in 2050”, CNREC (forthcoming)
6. http://www.dw.de/german-cabinet-adopts-reform-of-renewable-energy-law/a-17550535

Author Information:
Lin Jiang is the Senior Vice President for China Strategy and Analysis at the Energy Foundation.

Image courtesy of IntelFreePress and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.