(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are
By John Kemp
LONDON Nov 12 The joint statement by the United
States and China on climate change, issued on Wednesday, is more
important for its political and diplomatic symbolism than any
practical effect it might have in reducing emissions.
The statement reiterates policies China and the United
States have been developing on their own and contains no new
binding limits on greenhouse emissions.
Instead it is intended to "inject momentum into the global
climate negotiations and inspire other countries to join in
coming forward with ambitious actions as soon as possible" ahead
of the next multilateral climate summit in Paris in 2015.
In the joint announcement, the United States gave its
intention to cut economy-wide emissions 26-28 percent below the
2005 level by 2025.
The baseline, scale and timing of the reductions are
essentially the same as those proposed in the Clean Power Plan,
published by the Environmental Protection Agency in June.
In return, China announced that it intends to achieve peak
carbon dioxide emissions no later than 2030 and to increase the
share of non-fossil fuels to around 20 percent of primary energy
China has a long-standing strategy to increase the share of
zero-emission resources in national electricity generation at
the expense of fossil fuels, especially coal.
China's government has been discussing an energy and climate
strategy based on emissions peaking in either 2025 or 2030; the
joint announcement opts for the later target, which is easier to
The joint announcement employs language very carefully.
Throughout, the operative word is "intend" or "intention", which
makes clear the statement is not meant to create any new
China's 2030 emissions target is set in terms of a date but
says nothing about the level at which emissions will peak.
China's target for primary energy consumption is expressed
in terms of "non-fossil fuels", which means a big increase in
nuclear power as well as wind, solar and hydro.
Crucially, the joint statement reaffirms "the principle of
common but differentiated responsibilities", which has been the
sticking point in international negotiations since the Kyoto
Protocol in 1997.
NO LAME DUCK
Both sides have strong reasons to want an announcement on
climate change at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
summit in Beijing this week.
U.S. President Barack Obama needs to demonstrate he is still
relevant following defeats for his Democratic Party in the
mid-term elections this month. The mid-term results have been
perceived by many observers as a big setback for the president's
The Republican Party will control both chambers of the U.S.
Congress from January 2015. Congressional Republicans are
hostile to large parts of the president's policies on climate
and energy, especially his administration's implementation of
emissions curbs through regulatory action rather than
Republican lawmakers have pledged to roll back some of the
regulatory actions that the administration has taken over the
last four years through the Environmental Protection Agency.
In reality, congressional Republicans and their allies in
the Democratic Party from major energy-producing states lack
enough votes to overcome a presidential veto.
But Congress has the power to defund the agency, block
appointments, hold critical hearings and generally make life for
the agency much more difficult.
The president needed an ambitious statement to prove he can
still make a difference and allay concerns that the United
States is damaging its competitiveness by implementing carbon
controls unilaterally without requiring other countries,
principally China, to do the same.
XI IN CONTROL
For his part, Chinese President Xi Jinping also needed an
ambitious statement. As host nation, China wants the APEC summit
to be successful.
In exchange for the climate statement, China's negotiators
have secured goodwill and concessions from the United States on
other parts of the agenda, including maritime disputes and trade
negotiations, as well as some useful technology transfers.
By adopting emissions targets on its own terms, China can
influence negotiations leading up to the 2015 climate summit and
head off pressure for tougher targets.
China can point to its self-adopted targets as well as the
principle of "common and differentiated responsibilities" to
block any attempt to erect carbon tariffs or other border
adjustment measures by the United States and the European Union
to protect energy-intensive trade-exposed industries.
Finally, the 2030 target should be fairly easy to meet. By
then, the most manufacturing-intensive phase of China's
development will be complete and hundreds of millions more
people will have been lifted into the middle class. Emissions
are likely to stabilise by that date even without the joint
For China, climate action remains subordinate to the primary
goals of economic development and political and social
stability. The joint statement enshrines China's right to tackle
climate change in its own way and at its own pace.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)