After months of difficult negotiations, the United States and China have reached an accord on reducing their respective country’s contributions to the global climate problem. This past Wednesday, President Obama and President Xi Jinping jointly announced an agreement to cut carbon emissions. In this agreement, the U.S. has agreed to reduce its carbon emissions between 26 and 28 percent by 2025 and China would pledge to reach its peak on its carbon emissions by 2030. Experts say that the U.S. will “double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period between 2005 and 2020.” In addition, for China to reach its goal, they pledged to have 20 percent of their total electricity production made by clean energy sources, such as wind and solar. The goals that both nations have agreed to are very ambitious and audacious ones. But, even before the ink dried on this agreement, critiques were being leveled by climatologists and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. on the significance of this deal. Will this new climate agreement truly help the environment? Is Obama serious about environmental protection this time or is it another diluted promise? Will this deal help or hurt the U.S. economy? Let us examine the first reactions on this landmark deal.

Image courtesy of AP

Image courtesy of AP

First, what do climate experts say about this deal? At first glance, many have suggested that these plans will not make too much of a difference on the climate change problem. Scientists are unsure about the impact this plan will have on the environment because it is difficult to determine when China’s carbon emissions will peak. Other experts still suggest that solving the climate change problem will take more than the efforts of two countries. These scientists are correct. This is a global problem that will require global attention. All nations around the world will need to be involved in this effort to drastically reduce our collective contributions to the global climate problem.

But, what do environmentalists in the U.S. say about this deal? The reaction from environmentalists inside of the U.S. has been lukewarm at best. Environmentalists critique the agreement because it fails to do anything new on climate change. As such, many have argued that Obama has already started the U.S. on its pathway to carbon reduction. This is in fact true, particularly on Obama’s efforts to curb carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and assessing the vulnerability of coastal communities that could be impacted by climate change. To add to that argument, the Obama administration is poised to introduce several new executive orders on reversing the U.S.’ contribution to climate change in the coming months. Therefore, if the Obama Administration has already set into motion its own actions to combat climate change, then this would explain why some in the environmental movement have received this agreement tepidly.

What do the newly-elected Republicans in the U.S. Congress have to say about this deal? The reaction is an expected one: with distain and vitriol. Republicans, like the ones that opposed the Kyoto Protocol and The American Clean Energy and Security Act (a.k.a. the Climate Bill), oppose this agreement for the same two key reasons: not binding enough on the international actors and it will hurt the U.S. economy at home. These have been the typical responses from the Republican Party when asked to confront the issue of climate change. It is a mode of deflected blame toward other parties and protecting the interest of our own economic development domestically. Therefore, if other nations refuse to act on this issue, then the United States should not lead the world to combat this problem. At the same time, the Republican Party refuses to acknowledge the science behind climate change (see my last article on the political controversy behind climate change in the U.S.) and repudiates any policy position that seeks to eradicate this problem. As such, any maneuvers by the Democratic minority and the White House to reverse climate change under this pact will automatically be rebuffed by current and incoming Republican legislators. In addition, if Obama continues to act unilaterally on this issue, it is almost likely, with a unified Congress, Republican lawmakers may threaten to remove him from office through the impeachment process.

It has only been a few days since the announcement of what has been considered a landmark agreement on climate change between the U.S. and China. But, so few people are heralding and applauding this effort. It is understandable to see the degree of criticism that has been leveled on this agreement. Can China be trusted to peak its own emissions and switch to more clean energy sources? Can the United States, with a far more polarized political environment, implement measures to meet our agreed terms? Through all of the criticism, I believe this is a good start. With this agreement, it gives a firmer foundation and leverage to create more international dialogue at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris next year. Now that two of the world’s largest carbon emitters have made commitments to reduce their carbon emissions, more nations of the world may feel compelled to enter into a global climate agreement. This is something that was lacking in Copenhagen in 2009, when global leaders could not come to agreement on a binding climate pact. But, with this agreement, there is hope and possibility that now with the U.S. and China having moved on this issue, the whole world will act together to stop climate change.


Nicholas Zuba '15

Nicholas Zuba '15

Nicholas Zuba '15 is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. He is studying with a concentration in Public and Non-Profit Management, with a focus on environmental program management. Before coming to Cornell, Nicholas worked for the Town of Babylon, a municipality in Long Island, NY. He started in 2007 as a Program Aide and was promoted in 2008 to be Legislative Aide to then-Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone. He was later appointed in 2011 as an administrator of the Long Island Green Homes Program, a groundbreaking residential energy efficiency program that is funded and operated by the town. Nicholas is a Long Island native; he was born, raised and educated in West Babylon, NY and is presently a resident of Ithaca, NY. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY in December 2006, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.
Nicholas Zuba '15

Written by Nicholas Zuba '15

Nicholas Zuba '15 is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. He is studying with a concentration in Public and Non-Profit Management, with a focus on environmental program management. Before coming to Cornell, Nicholas worked for the Town of Babylon, a municipality in Long...
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