US-China emissions pledge is both 'practical and political'

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US-China emissions pledge is both 'practical and political'

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The US and China have reached an agreement (described as ‘historic’) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since these two countries produce some 40 percent of the world’s emissions, the surprise move might be expected to attract praise, but experts said the limits did not break significant new ground, and that it is a largely symbolic plan.

Presidents Obama and Xi met in Beijing for their first formal talks in more than a year. They sprung their announcement wrapping up the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Global climate change efforts come up for review next year in Paris.

Beijing has, for the first time, said its emissions should start to come down by 2030 — without committing to numbers. It has only ever agreed to reduce its pollution rate increase. China says a fifth of its power could come from renewable sources by then. Washington committed to an accelerated 26 to 28 percent overall carbon pollution reduction by 2025, based on 2005 levels.

Seeking to bolster the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations has held annual international conferences on common policies for tackling climate change. In 2009 in Copenhagen the member countries kicked the ball down the road till 2015. Supposedly, in Paris both developed and other countries will come to a consensus.

The US has never been a party to Kyoto binding emission reduction targets, rejected by the Bush administration. Obama’s was more amenable, although hamstrung by the Senate. The Republican majority leader has said new target proposals will also be rebuffed as unrealistic — which may be seen to cast doubt on the president’s Beijing pitch.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change response to the Obama-Xi move was: “This joint announcement provides both practical and political momentum towards a new, universal climate agreement in Paris in late 2015”.