AUSTIN, November 18, 2014 — The United States and China released a joint announcement on climate change at the end of last week’s meeting. The alleged blockbuster agreement is described by President Obama and environmentalists all over the world as an “historic agreement.” It is nothing of the kind.
No actual document containing the agreement exists as far as we can tell. Neither country committed to doing anything. All that exists is a joint announcement of non-binding intentions posted on the White House website.
According to the announcement, the United States:
- “intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%”
- “intend(s) to continue strengthening their (U.S.-China) policy dialogue and practical cooperation”
According to the announcement, China:
- “intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early”
- “intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030”
The keyword here is “intends.” Neither country commits to doing anything. Furthermore, neither country said anything they haven’t already said earlier this year.
The announcement includes other opportunities for cooperation, but again, nothing binding.
Noticeably absent from this announcement is China’s previous 2009 commitment to reduce its “carbon intensity” per unit of GDP by 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. That real-live commitment was made at the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Summit (COP15).
Nothing new in the announcement
President Obama only slightly restated the EPA’s Clean Power Plan‘s (CPP) public promise to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA regulations mandating those reductions will likely be approved and take effect early next year.
If implemented as written, the CPP will actually reduce CO2 by 43 percent below 2005, more than enough to meet Obama’s pledge to China. The CPP was proposed in June 2014.
Forbes reported in June 2014 that China had already pledged to get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
China said it would start reducing overall CO2 emissions “as soon as we can” after 2020 at the September 2014 climate summit in New York City. In this new announcement they backed off that to say only that they “intend” to stop increasing CO2 emissions by 2030, fifteen years from now.
Is China serious?
The measure of a country’s true intentions is found in its deeds, not its words.
In 2011, China got a whopping 91 percent of its energy from fossil fuels, mostly coal. China got a minuscule 1 percent of its energy from sources commonly defined as renewable: wind, solar, biomass and geothermal. That is according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
China’s 2009 Copenhagen commitment means it will have to cut the amount of CO2-generating energy required to create goods and services by nearly half. No major industrial nation can do that in so short a time, especially one that has barely started five years after agreeing to do so.
China’s newly stated intent to stop increasing its CO2 emissions by 2030 clearly signals it has abandoned the Copenhagen agreement. China has set no CO2 emissions cap to make that possible.
The above graph shows that, as a percent of total energy:
- China’s use of renewables is NOT growing;
- the U.S. use of renewables is growing;
- the U.S. gets 40 percent more of its energy from renewables than China.
Item 1 is especially meaningful. It reveals that China isn’t doing anything measurable to increase its renewable energy usage to 20 percent by 2020. China only says it intends to do so in the new announcement.
Items 2 and 3 discredit the often misunderstood belief that China is doing more to increase its use of renewables than the United States. In fact, the U.S. is increasing its use of renewables and pulling ahead of China fast.
Here’s where the confusion is. China and the United States define renewable energy differently. China includes hydroelectric as renewable but the United States does not. An apples-to-apples comparison, both including hydroelectric, is shown above.
Six in seven units of China’s renewable energy consumption comes from hydroelectric power. Nearly half of U.S. renewables come from non-hydro sources.
This last graph shows China surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest CO2 emitter in 2007. Since then China has increased its CO2 output by 2,700 million metric tons while the U.S. has decreased its output by 800 million metric tons. China has increased its carbon dioxide emissions almost five-fold since 1990.
On the other hand, the United States CO2 emissions peaked in 2007 and have been going down since. U.S. CO2 output has nearly dropped back to its 1990 level.
China alone is responsible for a staggering 63 percent of the increase in the world’s total CO2 emissions since 2002, according to EIA records.
There isn’t any documented evidence whatsoever that China has measurably increased its use of renewables towards its 20 percent goal. There is no evidence that China’s CO2 emissions have even started slowing down yet, let alone be cut at some future time after 2030. China’s is a fingers-crossed promise, not a commitment.
The United States is increasing its use of renewable energy, reducing its CO2 output and has a well-defined climate plan to meet an announced, achievable goal. At its current pace, the U.S. could meet Obama’s announced 26-28 percent reduction even without the CPP. The United States started reducing its CO2 emissions in 2007.
The U.S. is easily on track to meet its 2009 Copenhagen commitment to reduce its emissions 4 percent below its 1990 level.
China has apparently abandoned its 2009 Copenhagen commitment to reduce carbon intensity by 40-45 percent below 2005 levels.
China already accounts for over 25 percent of global CO2 emissions. China doesn’t even set a cap on what its final CO2 peak will be. It could be anything. At its current 10-year growth rate that cap could be as high as 15 billion metric tons per year and around 40 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions.
An agreement requires both parties to set achievable goals. The United States has. China has not. The United States shows progress towards its goals. China does not.
The U.S.-China joint announcement isn’t an agreement at all. It’s a rehash of previous China promises and not worth the White House web page it is displayed on.