Countries have agreed to conclude a new international climate change treat at the Un climate change meeting in Paris 2015.
According to the Brooking Institution, even a modest outcome from the meeting, including a framework agreement that would allow the details of specific policies and targets to be filled in and ramped up would be significant. Particularly given the fact that the current countries under the Copenhagen accord are currently not doing enough to meet the specified limit of a 2 °C global temperature rise.
However, requiring even a ‘limited’ outcome in Paris will require a lot of work between now and then. On a domestic level, progress is being made. In particular, China and the US appear increasingly willing to commit to efforts to reduce global warming.
In the US, the Obama administration has demonstrated by recent administrative actions on coal emissions that it intends to make addressing climate change a key focus for his second term. Brookings holds that the key question for the US in the lead up to Paris will be what post-2020 targets the US can commit to given uncertainty about when Congress might act to price carbon – the most effective and efficient means of reducing emissions. In the absence of Congressional action President Obama must rely on existing executive authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, there is growing climate action at the state and local level in the US. This includes California’s cap and trade system, and over half of US states have renewable or alternative energy targets.
China has increasingly developed its domestic policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Like many countries, these policies serve multiple goals, including developing local industry, increasing energy security and reducing air pollution. This includes policies such as targets to reduce energy intensity and CO2 intensity by 16% and 17%, respectively, by 2015, renewable energy incentives, energy efficiency measures, and seven regional carbon trading pilot projects under development with the goal of gradually establishing a national trading system.
Furthermore, the deterioration of Chinese air quality and increasing expressions of public concern has increased the political pressure to address these issues, which should also further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Similar to the US, there is also significant climate change activity at a local level, including carbon trading pilot programs in various cities.
China is also seeking to reorient its economy away from heavy industry towards consumption and services. Over time these economic reforms will reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of GDP. This is not to suggest that China is currently prepared to accept any significant constraints on its economic growth, particularly where this might threaten social stability. But China’s willingness to revise down its GDP growth targets makes clear that economic growth is no longer the singular focus, and reflects an understanding that improving overall welfare in China will involve focusing on factors such as environmental health. It is in this context that climate change policies have a chance to flourish, according to Brookings.
Should the US and China use the UN Paris meeting to commit to ambitious climate change action this would create a new and positive international dynamic. It would make clear that large emerging economies – those now contributing the most to climate change – need to be prepared to be part of a comprehensive solution. As importantly, Brookings emphasises, it would require matching ambition on the part of the developed world.
Adapted from a report by Emma McAleavey.
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