US, China vow to cut CO2 emissions, promote trade in green energy technologies

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U.S. President Barak Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday announced new carbon dioxide emission reduction targets as part of bilateral efforts to combat climate change.

Obama said the United States intended to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make "best efforts" to reduce its emissions by 28%.

While Xi did not offer specific targets for China, the country will seek to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030, making best efforts to peak early, and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.

In the joint announcement, the White House said Obama and Xi "reaffirmed the importance of strengthening bilateral cooperation on climate change" and would work together, and with other countries, to reach an agreement at the UN Climate Conference in Paris next year.

The countries said they hoped Wednesday’s announcement would “inject momentum into the global climate negotiations and inspire other countries to join in coming forward with ambitious actions as soon as possible.”

The U.S. and China also stressed that “smart action on climate change now can drive innovation, strengthen economic growth and bring broad benefits – from sustainable development to increased energy security, improved public health and a better quality of life. Tackling climate change will also strengthen national and international security.”

While the U.S. and China are the world’s two biggest polluters, they are also two of the world’s largest investors in clean energy and already cooperate on energy technology on a number of fronts:

  • The U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group (CCWG), under which they have launched action initiatives on vehicles, smart grids, carbon capture, utilization and storage, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas data management, forests and industrial boilers
  • The countries are working together towards the global phase down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), very potent greenhouse gases
  • The creation of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, which facilitates collaborative work in carbon capture and storage technologies, energy efficiency in buildings, and clean vehicles
  • An agreement on a joint peer review of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies under the G-20

The countries also announced additional measures to strengthen and expand the activities of the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group, the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center and the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, including greater joint clean energy research and development.

Among the new measures, the countries intend to better promote trade in green goods and clean energy technologies, a goal that is sure to benefit from a planned U.S. trade mission to China in April led by U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker that will focus on smart low-carbon cities and smart low-carbon growth technologies. The U.S. and China will establish a new initiative on climate-smart and low-carbon cities.

While Obama described the move as "historic," the announced targets have left some environmental activists unimpressed.

"There is a clear expectation of more ambition from these two economies whose emissions trajectories define the global response to climate change," Li Shuo, a senior climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia in Beijing, told Time. "Today’s announcements should only be the floor and not the ceiling of enhanced actions."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), along with other U.S. renewable power industries, hailed the goal announced on Tuesday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing of doubling renewable energy in the 21-member economies by 2030.

"We plan to do our part to help meet this ambitious new goal," said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch. "Smart, effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), are already paying huge dividends for America. Solar installations this year will be 70 times higher than they were in 2006 when the ITC went into effect. The price to install a solar rooftop system has been cut in half, while utility systems have dropped by 70%. It took the U.S. solar industry 40 years to install the first 20 GW of solar – which is enough to effectively power nearly 4 million American homes – but we’re going to install the next 20 GW in the next two years. That’s remarkable growth and puts us on a path to help meet APEC’s goal."