The United States and China announced at last week’s UN Climate Summit their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Obama conceded that the American economy has played a significant role in global warming. John Dyer reports from Boston.
The two worst emitters in the world have pledged to the United Nations to change their ways. American President Barack Obama and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli admitted in their speeches at the UN Climate Summit in New York that their countries need to take more action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thus bringing an international climate change accord in Paris in 2015 closer to reality. Neither the United States nor China have met their reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.
Obama admits guilt
Obama’s was clear in his address to the 120 world leaders that he and China had finally coming to an agreement. “My belief that as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibility to lead,” said. “That’s what big nations have to do. We recognise our role in creating this problem. We embrace responsibility to help combat it. Nobody gets a pass.”
Zhang followed Obama in the roster of speakers. “As a responsible major country, a major developing country, China will make even greater effort to address climate change,” he said. “All countries need to follow the path of green and low carbon development that suits their national conditions.”
“Understand the risks”
The two leaders’ comments raised the hopes of environmentalist who have despaired over disagreements between developed and developing nations over how to curb emissions and grow their economies while weather patterns grow more violent and extreme.
“What you saw today in a one-two punch was a recognition from the world’s two biggest polluters that they understand the risks,” said Jennifer Morgan, an analyst at the Washington, DC-based World Resources Institute.
The United States spent more than a century dumping enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in order not to impede its economic growth. But now it considers itself able to reduce its emissions. China and other developing nations have feared that they will harm their fast-growing economies if they cut carbon emissions too quickly. China overtook the United States as the world’s biggest carbon producer in 2006, followed closely by India.
Zhang said he would release a plan early next year describing how China would hit its maximum carbon emission levels in the near future before efforts to reduce them would start.
China is no longer “in denial” about its contribution to global pollution, said U.N. Under Secretary-General and director of the U.N. Environmental Programme, Achim Steiner.
Obama praises solar and wind energy
In his speech, Obama touted American anti-emission measures like increased solar and wind energy production that have reduced American carbon emissions to levels similar to the mid-1990s. He said the United States was adopting tougher standards for vehicles and mandating cuts in power plant emissions.
He also unveiled two new measures, saying federal agencies were now required to consider climate change when dispersing international aid and that the United States would be sharing its climate change data more readily with developing nations.
Those measures are minor, but in light of Obama’s speech as a whole, they show how the US is making slow but sure progress in combating climate change, said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, a major American environmental group.
“I don’t like to defend the U.S. administration’s climate policy, and there’s still a lot to be done,” said Brune. “But what I heard the president say today was that we need to lead”.
Still, Brune despaired over the pace of change and said leaders needed to move more quickly. On Sunday, scientists with the Australia-based Global Carbon Project announced that greenhouse gas emissions had risen by 2.3 per cent last year to a record-breaking 39.8 billion tons.
In his speech, Obama gave at least lip service to that urgency. “The alarm bells are ringing,” said Obama, adding that climate change was a greater challenge to world stability than terrorism. “We cannot pretend we do not hear them”.