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Are Obama And Xi Full Of Hot Air? Or Is This Pledge For Real?

Posted by: Annika Darling @ Nov. 18, 2014, 2:39 p.m.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping make a pledge to reduce future emissions. This marks the first time ever that China has made a commitment to protect the environment. The goal: the US will cut carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent, while China will stop its emissions from further growth by 2030.

Reactions to this news have been mixed. Some say it’s “historic” it’s a “breakthrough”, others remain skeptical that Beijing and Washington can make good on their pledge, and some even say it’s simply too little too late.

Regardless of the outcome, if they fall short of the goals they set or if the planet goes up in flames anyways, it is definitely a huge move in a positive direction, and one which should be acknowledged as such.

Paul Krugman may be right on the money when he concludes in a NY Times Op Ed piece that: “The agreement between China and the United States on carbon emissions is, in fact, a big deal.”

Krugman goes on to explain the reason it’s a big deal is because it takes out one of the major lines of defense that have been erected by the Republican party that blockaides action that would otherwise help save the planet. There are three major defensive modes that have been inhibiting movement towards combating climate change: denial -- global warming does not exist, scare tactics -- actions that cut emissions are bad for the economy because they lead to loss of jobs and impede growth, and, finally, there is nothing America can do as long as China keeps blasting out emissions at an ever increasing rate -- therefore anything we do is futile.

While the first two defenses can be argued until everyone is blue in the face -- no matter the ignorance, and especially because of the ignorance -- the last defense this summit has considerably crushed. Or plans to anyways. And of course we will just have to wait and see, the wording of the agreement has left many environmentalist skeptical -- and for good reason.

What the agreement really says: China intends to reduce emission. Keyword: intends. But only time will tell, and in the meantime emissions will continue to rise in China at a rate of 3 percent every year. The language of the deal is a little vague, to say the least, and seems to allow both China and the US a lot of play room should the deal ever become an inconvience. Furthermore the target levels of emissions are much higher than environmental experts want. Indeed, even if the deal were to work exactly as stated, the planet would experience a highly damaging rise in temperatures.

A series of scientific and economic reports have concluded that in order to avoid the 2-degree temperature rise, the world’s largest economies will have to drastically cut carbon emissions within just a few years — a rate far more rapid than what the United States and China have offered. At the same time, it has been a jolt of optimism. And since China and the United States are the two biggest national emitters of carbon, if they can unite in an effort to curb these than other countries should, hopefully, follow. At least their justification for not doing so will be greatly affected.

“Needless to say,” writes Kruger, “I don’t expect the usual suspects to concede that a major part of the anti-environmentalist argument has just collapsed. But it has. This was a good week for the planet.

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