ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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When Elephants Join Hands

The China-US carbon emissions deal may be disappointing but it could catalyse global efforts.

Global efforts to combat climate change have been hampered during the past two decades by the refusal of the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the United States (US), to take on binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions. The strategy increasingly has been for the US to demand that China (and India) also bear part of the burden, on the argument that both these countries are rapidly joining the league of large emitters of carbon dioxide. So when the US and China enter into a bilateral agreement to cut emissions over the next 10-15 years, is the world witnessing a new momentum in the fi ght against climate?

The targets that the US and China have agreed on look impressive but they are actually fairly weak ones. The US, still the biggest polluter, has now agreed to make, by 2025, a 26-28% reduction in its emissions from that in 2005, which would translate into a less than 15% reduction from the 1990 level. As the country historically responsible for the single largest national contribution to emissions, this commitment is far from meeting the demands of equity. (The European Union (EU) in contrast has just recently made a more significant commitment. It has promised to cut 1990 emissions by at least 40% by 2030.) China's commitment in the bilateral deal is harder to interpret but is also likely to be modest. The country says it will make its emissions peak by 2030 but it has not said at what level, and if these will come down thereafter or remain flat. Indeed, there is a possibility that if one were to extrapolate current trends of GHG emissions by the two countries, the targets they have laid down may not be much beyond business-as-usual trends. In other words, any extra effort may be incremental and not commensurate with the scale of the problem.

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