Joshua Goodfield, ArtSci ’15
Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Barack Obama established an agreement to support the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Their meeting on Nov. 9 received grandiose public support due to the ambitious goals both countries agreed to. It seemed to promise the potential for international unity on the front of addressing climate change.
This is an exciting prospect at first glimpse. The U.S. and China are the world’s largest economies and represent 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
However, this agreement is only the first step in addressing the larger global issue of
climate change. The objectives are long-term and the policy
The agreement should have added short-term goals in order to maximize its success.
The agreement should also place pressure on the Canadian government to follow suit with a similar plan.
The agreement occurred before the upcoming Canadian federal election, which will take place next year. Voters recently witnessed Prime Minister Stephen Harper skip the UN Climate Summit in September. No more excuses can be made now that the world’s two heaviest emitters have set public emission reduction targets.
The U.S. is planning to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below its 2005 levels by 2025 , while China is committed to capping its emissions by 2030. This means that China’s emissions will be documented in 2030 and shouldn’t exceed that rate in the future.
No mandate has been placed as to how much those emissions will be reduced and in what time frame.
This goal has received international praise, as this is the first public target ever set by China, the world’s largest emitter. President Xi wants to place emphasis on zero-emissions, non-fossil energy sources that would eventually represent 20 per cent of China’s energy by 2030.
In the eyes of many, Xi and Obama shaking hands was a major step in a sustainability-driven revolution.
As the levels of environmental catastrophes increase, people are noticing how the state of the natural world impacts their health and economy. From 1980 to 2009 there has been an 80 per cent increase in the growth of climate-related disasters.
In light of upcoming United Nations climate summits in Lima and Paris, China and the U.S. are now the leaders placing an inherent pressure on other countries to join in on their ambitious goals.
The main issue, quick to be pointed out by Obama critics, is that this is a non-binding policy seen in good faith. In 2025 or 2030, it’s uncertain whether the world will still hold these values in the forefront of their minds.
As well, neither China nor the U.S. will face any domestic or international consequences if these policies aren’t met, which furthers the idea that as new political leaders are elected the government will lose interest in these goals.
This climate change agreement won’t solve the drastic environmental issues at hand, and believing otherwise is detrimental to future policy-making.
The goals are too long-term and don’t set immediate pressures to act.
Although this is a progressive start for two countries that used to hide behind one to avoid their climatic realities, there’s still more to the equation.
With the possibility of a looming “tipping point” — where our planet can no longer sustain its carrying capacity — long-term goals must also possess short-term targets to ensure efficiency. This allows those concerned with the progress of emission rates to track these goals and remain engaged.
The issues that China and the U.S. are facing on a national scale are very different, but this agreement allowed both leaders to share with the world that their greenhouse gas emissions are a problem.
This puts them on an optimistic trajectory. The next step is learning how to utilize the renewable energies at their disposal.
An ironic example of this is China being a leader in producing infrastructure such as wind turbines and solar panels for innovative European countries, yet not harvesting much energy themselves through these methods.
Hopefully, this agreement and the upcoming UN climate summits will inspire other countries — including Canada — to set firm goals of their own, and to commit to short-term efforts for transparency, accountability and consequences for non-compliance. Each country needs to work on setting realistic individual plans before successful international unity can be achieved. The
hope is that this U.S.-China agreement makes it more likely that the upcoming summits will have a positive impact.
Joshua Goodfield is a fourth-year geography and environmental science major.
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