From DC, Xi Announces Next Steps on Climate Change

Following the joint announcement on carbon emission reduction made by Xi Jinping and Barack Obama last November in Beijing, the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to climate change action and announced additional steps towards meeting goals at a White House press conference. The Wall Street Journal’s Colleen Mccain Nelson and William Mauldin report:

The U.S. and China on Friday announced significant steps in their efforts to combat , including a pledge by China to launch a program by 2017 to cap some emissions and put a price on carbon and to contribute $3.1 billion to help poorer countries finance their own transition programs.

[…] China’s plan to finance efforts to combat climate change in poorer countries marks a significant step for Beijing, since previously highly developed economies have borne the burden of funding lower emissions and preparations for adverse weather in poorer countries. China’s contribution—through a specific fund—follows the Obama administration’s pledge last year of $3 billion for the international Green Climate Fund over several years.

[…] “The significant and new climate finance pledges made by China are a game changer in international climate politics,” said Li Shuo, Greenpeace East Asia senior climate policy analyst. “It is a drastic increase from China’s previous finance commitments.”

Mr. Obama on Friday highlighted the U.S.’s plans to reduce carbon emissions while commending China’s decision to begin a national cap-and-trade system and its “major commitment” to climate finance for poorer countries. [Source]

At The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert highlights the irony implicit in this announcement—that nominally Communist China has pledged to enact a capitalist approach to carbon emissions that Obama’s administration has been unable to get passed congress:

It was hard to avoid the irony. The leader of China—nominally, at least, a Communist country—came to Washington and announced that his government was adopting a market-based approach to curbing carbon emissions. Meanwhile, to reduce its carbon emissions, the unreservedly capitalist U.S. of A. is relying on regulations issued by a centralized bureaucracy.

[…] Credit for coming up with the idea of using a cap-and-trade system to cost-effectively cut pollution is usually given to an economist named Thomas Crocker, who’s now retired from the University of Wyoming. (John Dales, a Canadian economist, who died in 2007, is also recognized for having come up with more or less the same idea at more or less the same time.) A Republican Administration was the first to put such a system in place. The Reagan Administration used a cap-and-trade approach to phase out lead in gasoline. Then, under President George H. W. Bush, the U.S. set up a cap-and-trade system to curb power-plant emissions of sulfur dioxide. Under President Bill Clinton, the U.S. remained committed to the concept, so much so that the administration insisted that a cap-and-trade provision be included in the Kyoto Protocol. (Although the U.S. subsequently rejected the Protocol, the Europeans, who had resisted the idea of cap-and-trade, ended up establishing an E.U.-wide trading system.)

Somewhere along the line, Republicans turned against cap-and-trade, branding it as “cap-and-tax,” and this brings us to today’s irony. During his first term, President Obama tried to get a cap-and-trade system implemented for carbon emissions. He’s often been criticized for not having tried hard enough, a criticism that’s probably fair. However, as the President pointed out in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, there weren’t enough votes in the Senate to get the bill through without some G.O.P. support, and none was forthcoming. Indeed, even Democrats were balking.

“I don’t think that there was some magic recipe whereby we could have gotten cap-and-trade through,” Obama said. […] [Source]

Xi’s cap-and-trade pledge could help in the realization of the 2030 emissions peak he declared in November—which itself was criticized by some as not going far enough. Despite Xi’s new pledge, there are a host of challenges to a national cap-and-trade system in China. Chris Buckley reports at The New York Times:

“It will be a heavy burden having all this ready in time for 2017,” said Yang Fuqiang, a senior adviser on energy and climate change policy in Beijing for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Now we’re not even sure just how much energy we consume, so how can you go ahead with trading?”

[…] Mr. Xi’s system would cover power, iron and steel, chemicals, building materials, papermaking and nonferrous metals. But the big transport sector has been left out for now.

“We’ll face the question of how to reduce emissions in industries and sectors not covered by emissions trading schemes,” Mr. Yang said. “Then there’ll be coordination issues between the different policies and sectors. It’s complicated.”

[…] “It can work perfectly if we have all the pieces of the puzzle ready, but if we don’t have the rest of them, this one alone will not generate much benefit,” said Wang Tao, an analyst at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. “There are also risks if we don’t manage this well. The collapse of the carbon price may actually shut down the market.”

[…] The challenges in China are compounded by unreliable statistics, corruption and local officials who have made blazing economic growth a point of honor. Overcoming those problems will demand far-reaching changes to the energy sector, so that trading emissions translates into reduced consumption of coal and other polluting fuels, several experts said. […] [Source]

Local cap-and-trade pilots that have existed in China since 2013. At The Wall Street Journal, Te-Ping Chen looks at hurdles these localized programs have met:

China’s pilot programs, however, have gotten off to an unsteady start, and in some cases stalled, with difficulties in monitoring emissions and also pricing permits.

“The trading systems aren’t very active,” said Pang Jun, a professor in Renmin University’s environmental department. “It’s not like a vegetable market, with people buying and selling. It’s not very lively. There aren’t a lot of transactions.”

One challenge for cap-and-trade programs anywhere, Mr. Pang said, is how to allocate the permits, which helps determine the price.

[…] Getting accurate data on emissions is a challenge, Mr. Pang and other analysts said. Most of the monitoring is done by third-party verifiers, usually private companies, which haven’t built a reputation for reliability, he said. […] [Source]

At Mother Jones, Tim McDonnell gives a list of cap-and-trade success stories, but also acknowledges the many challenges facing China. He concludes, “at the very least, Republicans in the US just lost one their favorite excuses for climate inaction: That China, the world’s biggest emitter, is doing nothing.” Greenpeace East Asia’s Li Shuo agrees, referring to Xi’s commitment as a “paradigm shift” that could pave the way for progress at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year:

“The climate finance commitments from the Chinese government represent a paradigm shift. This is a drastic increase in scale from China’s previous financial pledges, US $3.1 billion could even surpass the US pledge to the Green Climate Fund, which still faces a significant battle in the US Congress.

“With this deal, it’s clear China is ready to lead on climate. The old political excuses for inaction in Washington have become irrelevant. On the wave of moral inspiration after the Pope’s visit, US politicians should raise the level of their ambition.

“The US and China frequently find themselves disagreeing with each other, but one thing that the leaders are aligned on is climate change. The overwhelming scale of the crisis transcends differences of political system and development stage. If the US and China can agree on the urgency of tackling climate change, the world should find it possible to forge a successful deal in Paris. [Source]

Xi’s trip to the U.S. coincided with Pope Francis’, contributing to the disappointment of some that Xi was not garnering the attention he deserved. At Mother Jones, James West explains how rare common ground between these three very different leaders may represent a new era in global progress on climate change:

Ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York City, an unprecedented triumvirate will be on US soil: President , the Communist leader of China’s 1.3 billion people and the world’s biggest carbon polluter; Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, and a self-modeled reformer; and US President , the leader of the world’s largest economy (and a man who doesn’t need to be reelected). In one way or another, they each have made fighting global warming a core part of their leadership at home and abroad.

The trio isn’t publicly scheduled to meet each other in America this week—though they will almost bump into one another. But the confluence of these heavy hitters is pumping optimism through green groups that a climate accord may finally be forged at the UN meeting in Paris at the end of the year.

Suddenly, they say, political rhetoric is turning into real momentum. Here’s why. […] [Source]

Addressing the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Pope Francis framed climate change as a human rights issue: “In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good. Any harm done to the environment is a harm to humanity.”