|November 13, 2014|
Obama clears the air on climate-change deal with China
|President Obama served notice Wednesday that he plans to make climate change a major theme of his final two years in office, striking a bilateral deal with China on carbon-reduction emissions that follows about nine months of secret talks.|
The announcement during Obama's trip to Beijing kindled a dispute with the incoming Republican Congress, members of which said they would resist presidential plans that undercut American industry and cost jobs.
"This unrealistic (China) plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs," said incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
While critics pointed out that the China deal is strictly voluntary, administration officials said it sets the stage for a series of executive actions Obama plans to take with regard to climate change.
Obama and aides said China's pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will make it easier for nations of the world to reach a global climate change deal in 2015.
"As the world's two largest economies, energy consumers and emitters of greenhouse gases, we have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change," Obama told reporters as he announced the China agreement.
Under the deal, China pledges to cap its growing carbon emissions by 2030. The United States, meanwhile, is setting a target to cut its emissions by 26% to 28% of 2005 levels by the year 2025.
A report released last month by the environmental group Greenpeace showed that China's coal consumption actually dropped by 1% to 2% over the first nine months of the year compared to 2013. That compares to the 5% to 10% annual increases earlier last decade.
Meanwhile, the use of coal to generate power in U.S. power plants has declined, as many utilities have shifted to cheaper natural gas, according to the International Energy Agency.
Detailed discussions of the agreement began shortly after a February visit to China by Secretary of State John Kerry, who broached the idea of a bilateral agreement, administration officials said.
Obama made a formal proposal in a spring letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, leading to a series of negotiations on details between the two nations, two officials said.
Those talks continued into a United Nations climate summit in New York in September. Obama himself met on the sidelines of that summit with Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, whose responsibilities include climate and energy.
In late October, Obama dispatched a special negotiator to China: senior adviser John Podesta, who was brought into the administration largely to handle environmental issues.
American and Chinese negotiators met last week in anticipation of Obama's visit to Beijing for an Asian economic summit.
U.S. officials pointed out that China has been criticized by its citizens over the country's heavy pollution, putting pressure on the government to do something about climate change. In the days leading up to Obama's arrival Sunday, the government shut down factories in and around Beijing in an effort to improve the air quality.
Congress cannot ratify or reject the agreement with China. But Republicans can try to minimize its impact by legislating away certain regulations on industry, and many pledged to do so.
McConnell, who made the administration's alleged "war on coal" a major part of his campaign in Kentucky, said the Republican Congress would work on "easing the burden already created" by Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who will have a bigger GOP majority in the wake of last week's elections, said the China announcement "is yet another sign that the president intends to double down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact for America's heartland and the country as a whole."
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., soon-to-be chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called the agreement "a non-binding charade," one that puts more burdens on the United States than on China.
Given a Republican majority in the Senate and House, Obama has no hope of climate change legislation. So administration officials said the president is on track to issue executive actions that deal with such items as coal ash and emissions at future power plants.
In addition, Obama administration officials said the China deal should help them pursue a global agreement to be discussed at a United Nations climate summit next year. Critics of past proposals for a global agreement have said it would be useless without the participation of China.
In announcing Wednesday's deal with China, Obama said new climate change rules, combined with development of clean energy sources, will improve public health, grow the economy, create jobs and "put both of our nations on the path to a low-carbon economy."
Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "We agreed to make sure that international climate change negotiations will reach an agreement as scheduled at the Paris conference in 2015."
The political fate of that effort, in the United States at least, remains uncertain.
If countries pursue a legally binding treaty, U.S. involvement would have to be ratified by the Senate; the Senate never ratified the Kyoto Protocol reached in 1997.