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US, China climate deal puts heat on Australia

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Australia’s backtracking on climate change policy – dumping the carbon price and seeking to slash the renewable energy target – is looking like an increasingly dumb and isolating policy position as the US and China announced an ambitious new climate deal.

In a landmark agreement between the two countries – one that could herald a global pact by Paris in December, 2015, President Barack Obama pledged deeper U.S. cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions and China will, for the first time, set a target for capping carbon emissions.

china usThe two leaders signed the agreement at the APEC summit in China, just days before the G20 meeting in Brisbane where Australia has refused to have climate change on the official agenda. It also came as the Pope sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a catholic,  urging him to take action on climate change.

Under the deal, Obama is setting a new target for the US to  cut greenhouse gas emissions at 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025, according to a Bloomberg report. The current target is to reach a level of 17 per cent below 2005 emissions by 2020.

Xi committed China to begin reducing its total carbon dioxide emissions, which have been steadily rising, by about 2030, although the actual cap could come much earlier, Bloomberg quoted the White House as saying in a statement.

The US said the agreement will “inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.” The two countries left open the possibility of increasing the targets should the combined commitments fall short of the goal of 2C.

The Climate Institute’s Erwin Jackson said the US pledge was equivalent to a 30 per cent reduction target for Australia by 2025. The TCI last week recommended it aim for 40 per cent target.

Jackson said it was clear that “Direct Action” could not achieve that target. “The biggest problem with domestic policy at the moment is that it’s divorced from global reality. So we have got to start planning for 50 years, not looking at our navel thinking about the next five.”

The US and China are the world’s two biggest economies and the two biggest aggregate emitters. It follows a commitment by the EU, the third largest emitter, to cut emissions by at last 40 per cent by 2030.

Bloomberg notes Obama has made climate change one of the central issues for his final two years in office, though his agenda is under attack by Republicans, who do not accept the science of climate change and are set to take control of both chambers in Congress at the start of next year.

China will also set a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2030.

Jake Schmidt, director of international programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental group told Bloomberg that China and the US account for 40 per cent of the world’s greenhouse emissions, and so shape how the market invests.

‘‘They’ve also been two of the most difficult players in the history of the climate negotiations so the fact that they are coming out and saying they are going to take deep commitments will be a powerful signal to the rest of the world.” he said.

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne said the move should be a massive wake-up call to Tony Abbott.

“His continued climate denial and his destruction of the environment is reckless,” Milne said. “Tony Abbott is so busy unwinding Australia’s climate policies that he failed to notice the global economy is changing around him. He is risking billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs.

“Tony Abbott is engaging in intergenerational theft while the rest of the world moves to protect future generations and the planet. Until the Abbott government took control, Australia was a world leader in climate policy with an emissions trading scheme that was considered template legislation for other nations.”

The US-based World Resources Institute said both leaders had clearly acknowledged the mounting threat of climate change and the urgency of action, even though more needed to be done.

“The U.S. and China should be commended for putting their initial pledges on the table so early. This should inject a jolt of momentum in the lead up to a global climate agreement in Paris,”  said Andrew Steer, WRI President & CEO.

“The US target shows a serious commitment to action and puts the US on a path to reduce its emissions around 80 percent by mid-century. This pledge is grounded in what is achievable under existing US law.

“However, we should not underestimate the potential of innovation and technology to bring down costs and make it easier to meet–or even exceed–the proposed targets.

“China’s pledge to increase non-fossil fuel energy and peak emissions around 2030 as early as possible is a major development—and reflects a shift in its position from just a few years ago. But it will be very important to see at what level and what year their emissions peak. Analysis shows that China’s emissions should peak before 2030 to limit the worst consequences of climate change.”

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  • barrie harrop

    Perfect timing for a G20 -media focus –Aust PM will have some issues here in denial.

  • john

    Poor Australian Pm has a problem but it will be ok because there will be no coverage in the Australian Media it does not involve football or now summer is here cricket home free.

  • john

    The two most important countries make an agreement granted the USA President has zero chance of getting anything though his myopic house or the senate however the Chinese will implement action now there is no excuse for the rest of the world to point the finger especially Australia we stand out as the worst per capita so come on Team Australia give us a reason to stand proud not ashamed of our pathetic record.

  • Douglas Hynd

    Significance of this is less the specific figures rather that it lays the basis for other nations to commit to a global working agreement – when combined with recent European Union announcement – it is a significant prerequisite for getting nations on board. The failure to get US and China on the same page sank Copenhagen attempt at agreement

    • john

      Exactly Douglas this is rather a game changer

  • Alex

    Speaking of “heat on Australia” the sweltering temperatures expected during the G20 will make any comments about the weather especially uncomfortable for our Primate Monster- I wonder if Merkel will ask him directly about Australia’s policy vacuum on climate change? I would love to watch the winking worm squirm.

    • Peter Campbell

      Wouldn’t it be nice if the air-conditioning happened to stop working on the day.

      • Pedro

        Ask all the Queenslander’s to turn off their PV during the G20

  • adam

    Will the US be able to follow through with this given the recent mid-terms?

    • Bob_Wallace

      I think the US can make this goal on autopilot.

      We’re already down 10% from 2005 in terms of CO2. (I’m leaving the other GHGs out of the discussion for lack of knowledge.)

      US mileage regs for cars are more than doubling by 2025 and MPG numbers have been rising. Given that 50% of all driving is done with 5 year old or newer cars it looks like the personal transportation would be able to move another 16% to 18%.

      For electricity generation, that’s converting about 1% of fossil fuel use to renewables per year. 16% to 18% in 15 years. We converted just under 1% in 2013, we’re running more than 1% better in 2014, and we’ve got 25% of our coal plants on the chopping block.

  • Chris Marshalk

    Australia an “International Embarrassment”. Worst Prime Minister EVER. Makes a mockery of our Political System by lying his way into office. Disgusting LNP Scum.

  • wideEyedPupil

    TCI are on the lets keep digging up coal team along with infamous Niki Webster of ACA notoriety at the Gratten Institute. the my still promote the science-fiction of clean coal and carbon capture and storage. Can we just stop quoting these guys? Please?!

  • wideEyedPupil

    26 – 28 percent reduction of 2005 (a high water mark in US emissions) is not deep reductions and will not keep the world under 2°C. There is also a major furphy going on with the under reporting of fugitive emissions as the USA switches largest amounts of utilty generation from coal to unconventional gas (mainly shale gas). Burning fossil gas is worse than burning coal to make power given a realistic assment of methane (84x CO2 IPCC AR 5 over 20yrs). Given we may already have crossed a tipping point for Arctic methane bombs to start exploding 20yrs is a significant timescale rather than the more commonly quoted 100yr time scale which tends to obscure the short term impact methane on climate.

    Howarth et al “Cornell Letter” and “Response to Critics” are both free downloads online from Cornell University. was followed up by a major study by Harvard, NOAA, Berkley, NASA etc which used a range if direct atmospheric detection methods to confirm gas fields have much higher fugitive emissions than what industry say they do and what gets used in national GHG auditing.

  • michael

    “Xi committed China to begin reducing its total carbon dioxide emissions, which have been steadily rising, by about 2030”
    what a big committment… if they keep increasing yoy until 2030 won’t we have blown the carbon budget anyway?

    • Ronald Brakels

      The fact that China has agreed to cap emissions at all is a sea change. In the past they wanted to keep all their options open and so would not commit themselves to actually reducing emissions. The good news is that practically and economically China is on track for its emissions to peak well before 2030. While targets can always be improved on, China is not going to make itself look bad by going backwards. (That’s Australia’s job.)

      • michael

        That hardly settles the mind when you consider the absolute emissions between now and whenever they might, in 10-20years time, start not increasing yoy, let alone start reducing like everyone else is already being lashed for not doing fast enough now

        I’m sure Australia will be ‘doing better than now’ on the GHG front in 2030, however that doesn’t seem to stop the finger pointing and lamenting

        • Ronald Brakels

          I like to mock my government when ever they take actions that increase the likelyhood of Bangladeshi children drowning. Call me strange, but I actually feel sad whenever we move in the drown more children direction. I guess I’m just a big softy that the thought of drowned children is actually enough to make me break out in tears.

          • michael

            So you are or aren’t happy china is accelerating the rate of increase of carbon in the atmosphere and how that impacts bangladeshis?

          • Ronald Brakels

            I missed that part. Could you explain again how China is accelerating its carbon emissions? Please type loudly because it’s hard to hear you over the sound of coal exports to China falling.

          • michael

            Rough stats from carbonneutral.com have china increasing emission threefold between 2000-2010, passing USA in 2011 as largest emitter

            The article states they are commiting to trying to start decreasing (that’s no longer increasing) by 2030

            Wiki reckons they were 25% of world emissions in 2010

            Clear picture

          • Ronald Brakels

            So you are saying China has increased its carbon emissions. Okaaaayyyyyyy.

            I wonder what I will do with this astounding news.

          • michael

            Request Australia follow their ‘lead’?

          • Ronald Brakels

            If by follow their lead you mean introduce a carbon price, yes, that sounds good to me. We had one a while back, but I don’t know where it’s gotten to.

          • michael

            follow their lead by agreeing to the same targets, as in being facetious. We are way in front of china in terms of GHG reduction targets, but the left are celebrating this groundbreaking agreement, when China really hasn’t agreed to much at all, it’s just the first time they’ve come to an agreement. The response nicely highlights the predisposition of a particular audience. Wasn’t Julia Bishop meeting with them on Climate Change just a couple of days ago, yet no mention of this… funny that

          • michael

            we should aim for the same coal production as China?

          • Ronald Brakels

            I’ll try to put it simply for you, Michael: Coal bad.

          • michael

            ah yes, so how china is currently going about energy production is bad and we shouldn’t follow them (you know the largest production of coal of any country on earth…)

          • Ronald Brakels

            It’s hard to tell how confused you are, Michael. Just in case you aren’t aware, China is the world’s largest coal producer and Australia is number four if for some reason you decide to count the entire EU as one producer.

          • michael

            what? have never mentioned the EU. And previous comment direct quote in relation to China, “largest production of coal “, so thanks for agreeing. What i’m seeing is you wanting us to follow their lead on ‘measures’ and ‘statements’ but not follow their lead on the ‘doing’ and ‘actions’ and ’emissions pathways’. Or, are you thinking they are achieving more in terms of emissions reduction than Australia is currently and as such are leading the way in comparison to us?

          • Ronald Brakels

            I’m only interested in quantitative comparisons. I’m not interested in non-quantitative comparisons. You can decide for yourself who is achieving more or leading the way.

          • michael

            exactly. Chinese emissions are still increasing yoy as we speak. Australia is currently emitting less Carbon than we were a number of years ago. Ergo, china needs to follow our lead.

            we have committed to reducing our GHG emissions by 2020 from a base in the past, so real reduction.

            They have committed to halting the increase by 2030, so a much less onerous commitment, once again, they should be following our lead

          • Ronald Brakels

            If my internet presence was helpful to you in arriving at that conclusion, I am glad.

          • michael

            your initial sentiment that their actions were making us look bad because we are going backwards… but now you agree they should follow our lead? damn written words, never know if it’s sarcasm or not. I’ll have to give it the benefit of the doubt and presume you changed your position.

          • Ronald Brakels

            It is good that China has committed to a cap on emissions. It is an improvement on what they had committed to do in the past which was merely to reduce emission intensity, which doesn’t mean much.

            Australia took a step backwards when it removed its efficient carbon price and then replaced it with Direct Action which does not appear capable of achieving a 5% cut in emissions by 2020 and does not contain provisions to ensure that it does.

            So China’s offical stance improved. Australia’s greenhouse gas abatement policy took a turn for the worse.

          • michael

            Yet the fact remains that if they committed to the same targets as us it would be substantially better, yet somehow the articles are all slanted that the heat is on us…. Go figure

          • Pedro

            With regards to China you would need to take into account the extraordinary growth of the country for the past couple of decades and much of the worlds manufacturing shifting to China. Whereas Australia’s GHG emissions have been partly reduced by energy intensive industries closing down.

            To be a little fairer you would have to look at the rate of growth of RE power supply within the energy mix compared to FF growth.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It looks like China slowed their growth in coal consumption a few years back.

            A few months back China said that it might be able to reach peak coal by 2017.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Remember that the Chinese government has not been in denial about climate change. And that the Chinese government has stated that it wants to be a leader against climate change.

          • michael

            Intentions to one side, when do the actions speak louder? It’s just so strange how they get embraced in these sorts of conversations for making nice statements as opposed to the actual gross amounts of carbon they are and will pump into the atmosphere (let alone the rest of the pollution being caused up there through amazingly lax standards when compared with the enviro regulations which are belittled in Australia). A very strange coloured lens to few/compare things

          • Bob_Wallace

            Are you aware of what China has done over the last few years to clean up their grid?

            Or are you simply assuming that they’ve done nothing?

          • michael

            Basing the timing of emissions flat line/reduction on quote within article attributed to Xi

            I thinks that’s reasonable?

            If as this publication states, solar is actually the cheaper option to deploy right now, why does china need the 15 years to halt its carbon emissions increase?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Can you point out where China said that it needed 15 years to halt its carbon emissions increase?

          • michael

            “Xi committed China to begin reducing its total carbon dioxide emissions … by about 2030

            By my calculation that ‘begin reducing in 2030’ is roughly 15 years away

            No?

          • Bob_Wallace

            You chopped off the last part. Here’s how it reads in full –

            “Xi committed China to begin reducing its total carbon dioxide emissions, which have been steadily rising, by about 2030, although the actual cap could come much earlier”

            — Although the actual cap could come much earlier. —

            Perhaps you aren’t familiar with how China has set public targets and then reached them early, followed by setting new more ambitious targets.

            This is something they’ve done multiple time with their “five year” goals for installing wind generation. Each five year target was reached before the five year period was up and then a new higher target was set and met early.

            I’m not saying that they’ll reach peak CO2 emissions sooner than 2030, but based on previous behavior …..

          • michael

            Ok, no pint arguing a guess at someone finally setting a target but assuming they’ll overachieve.

            One interesting angle is why they can’t stop their emissions increase immediately or very quickly, say sub 5 years. If they are world leaders in renewable generation, they would know the economics better than anyone. So, if renewables make economic sense over FF base load now, why do they keep installing and planning to install coal generators?

            Why applaud them setting easily attainable targets? When western nations don’t reach far enough for stretch targets they get pilloried

          • Bob_Wallace

            China’s leaders, like leaders in any country, have to juggle more than one ball at a time. They can’t stop energy development without crashing their economy.

          • michael

            Doesn’t China produce 7-8 times mores coal than Australia? Somewhere around 40% of the worlds total coal is produced in China i thought

  • MarathonMan

    Obama’s a lame duck President. Anything that cannot be done by presidential executive order won’t be done in the next two years. Obama knows it and the Chinese leadership know that his gesture is meaningless and they in turn have made a meaningless gesture in return.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is part of the administrative branch of the US government. That means that the US president calls the shots when it comes to how the EPA operates.

      Congress has previously given the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as part of the Clean Air Act. This is passed and signed legislation. It has been reviewed and approved by the Supreme Court. It is the law of the land and can only be undone by future legislation which cannot get past the President’s veto pen for the next two years.

      PBO is closing coal plants. Hundreds of them. They will be replaced with cleaner generation. I really doubt it possible to install wind turbines and solar panels fast enough to replace more than the ~400 coal plants now on the chopping block.

      This will not be a meaningless gesture. It will be a very significant reduction in US CO2 emissions.

      And I’m sure PBO has plenty other arrows in his quiver that he’s going to loose on GHG.

  • Doug Cutler

    Possibly mistitled article. Technically, US and China are trying to take the heat OFF Australia but hey . . .

  • Nick Thiwerspoon

    The key factor behind this agreement is surely that the cost of renewables is now close to or at the cost of fossil fuels. Therefore, the cost of switching away from a carbon-based economy compared with the cost of fossil fuels (even without including the cost on our economies of global warming) is zero. And the costs of renewables continue to decline: solar panels by 18% per annum, wind by 5%, and batteries by 15%. So committing to cut CO2 emissions is easy. Just 5 years ago, it wasn’t, because costs were 100% higher. And in 5 years time they will be 50% lower. 50%!!!!!!

    China would have reached peak emissions anyway within 5 years. And this is an extraordinary achievement, because it will be doing that while still growing at 7% per annum. Its carbon intensity will thus be falling by 7% per annum. In the US, an equivalent fall in carbon intensity would lead to a fall of carbon emissions of 4% per annum, and in fact their target is not much less than that on my calcs. Clearly China and the US have agreed to cut carbon intensity by roughly the same amount, rather than emissions. And my guess is that Europe will go along with an equivalent cut in carbon intensity, which in their case will result in a fall of 5% per annum in carbon emissions as their growth rate is lower. See http://volewica.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/the-4-club.html

    No one is going to be building new coal-fired power stations. Peaking power is now more cheaply provided by battery silos than gas or diesel plants, even with current battery costs. Old coal power stations are still “cheaper” than renewables, because they are fully depreciated, but as they age and have to close they will not be replaced by new coal power stations. Coal is finished. Filthy, unhealthy, murderous and expensive: we will all be getting almost all our power from renewables within 20 years.

    Whether the proposed cuts are fast enough is indeed questionable. But my guess is that the economics (never mind the politics) of switching to renewables is becoming so compelling that peak carbon emissions (though not the atmospheric level of CO2) is perhaps only 5 years away. This won’t be happening because greenies wearing home-knitted jerseys and living on brown bread are pressing for it. It will happen because hard-headed businessmen and women see an opportunity to cut costs and to make money. It will be interesting to see whether the rabid right is still so fond of market forces when these decimate their favourite industry.

    One final point: does anybody seriously think that if the world’s largest emitters (China, US, Europe and India) commit to cutting emissions that small countries like Australia will not be forced to follow suit?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Nick, even more important when it comes to cost, is the fact that thermal plants wear out and have to be replaced. Electricity from a paid off plant might be cheap and wind/solar may just now be reaching parity. But if you look at the cost from a new coal plant then wind and solar are huge bargains.

      In the US the non-subsidized price of onshore wind is now about $0.04/kWh and solar is only slightly higher. New coal (not even counting external costs) would be $0.15/kWh or higher.

      The cost of storage needed to match wind/solar output to demand is also seeing a rapid price decline.

      It will take a couple more years for these new realities to sink in to the brains of the decision makers around the world, but as it does new generation is likely to move to almost all renewables.

      We’re going to replace most thermal plants over the next 20 to 30 years. Few will be replaced with new thermal plants.

      • Nick Thiwerspoon

        Indeed