U.S.-China Pledges Boost Optimism for 2015; Climate Deal Can be Reached, Stern Says

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By Dean Scott

Nov. 24 — Recent pledges by the U.S. and China to ramp up their actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions have sparked new optimism that a global climate accord can be reached in Paris in late 2015, the top U.S. climate negotiator said Nov. 24.

“If you were holding stock in the Paris negotiations, your stock would have gone up after this announcement,” Todd Stern, the special envoy for climate change, said at a forum held by the Center for American Progress. Under the Nov. 12 joint U.S.-China announcement, the U.S. vowed to cut its emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, from 2005 levels; China pledged that its emissions would peak by 2030 and possibly earlier.

Stern told reporters afterward that it's too soon to say whether the pledges, announced by the two largest emitters Nov. 12, will begin paying dividends in the weeks ahead, when negotiators from 190-plus nations resume United Nations climate talks in Lima. But, he noted that both countries also pledged to work together in getting other developed and developing nations to sign on to the agreement, which is to enter into force in 2020.

“I think the notion that the U.S. and China—who have been these two big players on opposite sides of the fence and viewed as the biggest antagonists—were able to stand up together, that's a big thing,” Stern told reporters.

The lead U.S. negotiator said reducing U.S. emissions by 28 percent by 2025 would put the nation on a trajectory for an 80 percent cut in its emissions by 2050.

Stern told reporters after the forum that he will depart Dec. 5 for the talks in the Peruvian capital ahead of high-level negotiations that formally begin Dec. 9. The Lima talks will serve as the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 10th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

Called Significant Departure for China

The 80 percent U.S. reduction is roughly the same 2050 target proposed in broad climate legislation by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and then-Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that passed the House in 2009 only to die without a vote in the Senate in 2010.

It's also the reduction that many scientists say the U.S. must make to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial times and severe climate impacts.

Stern said China's pledge—that its carbon emissions will peak by 2030 at the latest—was a significant departure for the world's top emitter, which had resisted assigning a date for when its emissions would stabilize and then presumably begin to decline. China also pledged to increase its renewable energy sources so that they account for 20 percent of the nation's energy mix by 2030.

“There's a good chance” China's emissions could peak sooner than 2030, Stern said, given its push for more solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com