World’s two biggest polluters-China and US-strike deal to cut carbon emissions

Delhi non-profit Centre for Science and Environment warns the deal will push the world to catastrophic increase in average global temperature

By Priyanka Singh
Published: Wednesday 12 November 2014


China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has committed for the first time to cap its rapidly growing carbon emissions by 2030. Chinese president Xi Jinping and his US counterpart, Barack Obama, struck a deal in Beijing on Wednesday to limit greenhouse gases. The agreement was reached at the conclusion of the APEC trade summit in China. ;

According to news reports, the US and China have worked on the deal quietly for the past nine months. Commentators from both the countries have hailed the deal as “historic” and “ambitious”. They also believe that this deal will spur nations around the world to make their own cuts in greenhouse gases.

China, on its part, will peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and then start reducing it. It has, however, not announced specific targets. The US has vowed to help China to “slow, peak and then reverse” its emissions. China also set a goal of increasing the share of non-fossil fuels to 20 per cent of the country's energy mix by 2030.

Obama announced a target to cut US emissions 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025, the first time the president has set a goal beyond the existing 17 per cent target by 2020, US officials told Wall Street Journal.

The two countries together account for about 40 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and their commitments are “likely to energise talks under way to set new post-2020 targets when climate negotiators meet in Paris in December next year”, according to a report in Sidney Herald.

Delhi non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), has, however, lambasted the climate deal, saying it is neither “historic” nor ambitious, but just a self-serving agreement between the world’s two biggest polluters.

An analysis by CSE suggests the deal will actually take the world towards a catastrophic temperature increase of 3OC and beyond.

If this deal goes through…

  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the US in 2025 will be 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Its per capita emissions would be 14 tonne CO2e in 2025. In comparison, in 2025, India’s total emissions will be about 4 billion tonnes and its per capita emissions will be less than 3 tonne.

  • From 1990 levels, the US will reduce its emissions by just 15-17 per cent by 2025. In comparison, the European Union will reduce its emissions by at least 35 per cent – more than double that of the US.

  • All estimates show that to meet the 2oC target, US emissions should be at least 50-60 per cent below 1990 levels considering its historical responsibility of causing climate change and its present capability of solving it.

  • China's emissions will peak at 17-20 billion tonne CO2e by 2030. Its per capita emissions in 2030 will be 12-13 tonne CO2e. These are not in line with the 2OC emissions pathways as put forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).   

  • Extrapolation of data by CSE indicates that in 2030, per capita emissions of the US and China will converge at 12 tonne CO2e. 

Way off target

Commenting on the deal, Sunita Narain, director general, CSE, points out: “It is a self-serving deal in which both countries have agreed to converge their per capita emissions at 12 tonne in 2030. This is a high level of emission and not in line with meeting the 2OC temperature target mandated by the IPCC.”

The recently released Synthesis Report of the IPCC mentions that the world needs to cut its emissions between 40 and 70 per cent below 2010 levels by 2050 to stay within the 2OC temperature increase pathway. The US-China deal will not allow the world to meet this benchmark, adds Narain.  

“This deal puts a sub-standard benchmark for other countries to follow,” says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of CSE and the head of its climate change team. “In fact, if India were to follow the principles of this deal, then we need not do anything till 2040 and beyond. Our per capita emissions in 2030 will be less than 4 tonne CO2e compared to 12 tonne of the US and China,” he adds. 

Wake up call for India

Bhushan says this deal is a precursor to what we should expect in 2015 in Paris. In the name of getting a consensus in 2015, these two countries are forcing a catastrophic business-as-usual deal on the world.

This deal is also a reality check for the government of India about its stance on global climate negotiations. India will have to decide whether it wants to follow the US-China deal or carve out a different path for itself. 

CSE experts believe that India should now work harder with developing countries and push for an ambitious global deal which is equitable and saves the world from catastrophic climate impacts. “India should push for a principle-based emissions reduction target for all countries. This is the only way we can force the US and China to reduce their emissions which are in line with the planetary limits,” adds Narain.


Single-year mitigation targets: uncharted territory for emissions trading and unit transfers

Greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2030

Counting the gigatonnes: building trust in greenhouse gas inventories from the United States and China

China, the United States, and the climate change challenge

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