U.S.-China Presidential Summit Offers Opportunity on Climate Change

Climate change looms large among the many issues on the table at the upcoming meeting of Presidents Xi and Obama in the U.S. next week. Any new developments at that meeting will build on announced domestic efforts to address the issue, starting with a joint declaration in Beijing last November of what would become the main elements of each country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (or INDC). In its INDC, China has pledged to reverse the increase in its CO2 emissions to peak by 2030 or sooner. It also pledged to increase the share of non-fossil energy in its primary energy mix to around 20% by 2030, and to achieve a 60-65% reduction in CO2 intensity in 2030, relative to 2005 levels. The U.S. has pledged to reduce its absolute CO2 emissions level 26-28% by 2025, relative to 2005 levels. These pledges are cornerstones in the emerging architecture of global climate change mitigation ahead of a landmark round of global climate talks rapidly approaching in Paris later this year.

But the hard work to achieve meaningful global action on climate change is far from finished. In fact, in many respects these efforts have barely got started—an August 2014 MIT report suggests that even with all the pledges announced, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are set to rise through mid-century (Jacoby and Chen, 20141). And the world is far from reversing this trajectory.

Actions by China and the U.S. could have a big impact on the strength of any potential global agreement in Paris—and importantly, what happens after it. A commitment by the two countries to work towards an improved, fair and mutually acceptable process for monitoring, reporting and verifying and planning to further reduce emissions would lend greater credibility to the Paris outcome. The presidential summit also provides an opportunity for a timely conversation on how the two countries can facilitate the global diffusion of low carbon technologies and energy efficient practices by coordinating domestic policies and incentives. Another important agenda item concerns what forms of policy, technology, and financial support could help to accelerate low carbon transitions in developing nations, which could go a long way towards bending down the global GHG emissions trajectory sooner rather than later.

At this week’s U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit in Los Angeles, cities, states and provinces across the U.S. and China set ambitious and achievable targets to reduce their emissions, in many cases outpacing national goals. These new pledges signal the commitment of both countries to implement and build on last November’s joint statement on climate change, and provide an even stronger foundation on which Presidents Obama and Xi can build.

I expect that after the presidential summit, there will be more to say about the outlook for Paris and beyond. Stay tuned.

1.Jacoby, H. and Chen, H. (2014). Expectations for a New Climate Agreement.

Author Information:
Dr. Valerie Karplus is a ChinaFAQs Expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is an Assistant Professor in the Global Economics and Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Director of the China Energy and Climate Project (CECP) at MIT.