President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a three-and-a-half page joint statement on climate change on 25th September during the Chinese leader’s state visit to Washington, DC. This follows the climate agreement that Presidents Obama and Xi made on 12th November 2014 when Obama visited China.
>Both leaders commit “to work together and with others toward an ambitious, successful Paris outcome” that makes progress toward keeping the increase in the global mean temperature below 2 degrees centigrade. “Paris outcome” refers to the new international agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that is currently being negotiated and is due to be signed at COP-21 (the seventeenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Paris in December.
Press reports have focused on the announcement that China will begin an emissions trading (or cap-and-trade) system for greenhouse gas emissions from electric generation and most industries by 2017. But just as with the Obama-Xi deal last year, China does not commit to actual emissions reductions.
Instead, the statement re-affirms “their commitment to reach an ambitious agreement in 2015 that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.” Translated from UN-speak, this means that, as with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, developed countries will be expected to undertake targets and timetables for reducing emissions, while developing countries will not.
Left unresolved by the joint statement is whether China will continue as a developing country (known as Non-Annex I countries in the UNFCCC) or will move on to the developed country list (Annex I). The Chinese position has consistently been that they will remain a developing country for several more decades.
To me, the most surprising area of agreement is over transparency. The joint statement reads: “Both sides support the inclusion in the Paris outcome of an enhanced transparency system to build mutual trust and confidence and promote effective implementation including through reporting and review of action and support in an appropriate manner. It should provide flexibility to those developing countries that need it in light of their capacities.” The Chinese government has long resisted calls from the European Union and the U. S. to open its internal emissions data to outside inspection and verification. We’ll have to see what “an enhanced transparency system” amounts to.
Presidents Obama and Xi are also committed to achieving full funding for the Green Climate Fund (or GCF), which is $100 billion per year starting in 2020. The U. S. share of the GCF will be roughly $30 billion per year. President Obama’s budget for FY 2016 requests $3 billion over the next four years to help get the GCF off the ground, but the House version of the State Department Appropriations bill prohibits sending any money to the GCF. China announced that it will provide $3.1 billion “to help developing countries combat climate change.” It appears that China will distribute funds directly to favored countries and not through the GCF.