As environmentalists and the White House celebrated a major agreement Wednesday with China over combating climate change, a key Republican member of the Senate committee overseeing environmental issues said the deal was “hollow” and a “charade” and questioned why it gave the U.S. set targets but allowed the Chinese to continue increasing emissions.
On the other side of the issue, environmental experts said the deal was historic but that there were big questions about whether China could live up to its end.
According to the White House, the plan sets a new target for the U.S. to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China, meanwhile, said its goal is to cap its carbon emissions at the level they are expected to reach around the year 2030, “with the intention to try to peak early.”
The agreement, announced during President Barack Obama’s visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, also calls on the Chinese to quickly ramp up sources of power that emit fewer greenhouse gases than coal, its current main fuel. China will expand total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030, the White House said — a mammoth increase in nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission sources.
China can cap its emissions before 2030, the White House said, based on “its broad economic reform program, plans to address air pollution and implementation of President Xi’s call for an energy revolution.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the likely new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, criticized the deal as committing the U.S. to concrete action while leaving China’s obligations nebulous.
“In the president’s climate change deal, the United States will be required to more steeply reduce our carbon emissions while China won’t have to reduce anything,” said Inhofe, a prominent and vocal skeptic of climate change who in the past has called the science behind the issue uncertain and the president’s actions akin to “doubling down on global warming policies that have already demonstrated that they do more harm than good.”
On the Chinese agreement, Inhofe in a statement dubbed it “hollow and not believable for China to claim it will shift 20 percent of its energy to non-fossil fuels by 2030.” He called it “a non-binding charade.”
His Democratic counterweight on the Senate environment committee, current chairwoman Barbara Boxer of California, highlighted what she said was the significance of the agreement.
“The biggest carbon polluter on our planet, China, has agreed to cut back on dangerous emissions, and now we should make sure all countries do their part because this is a threat to the people that we all represent,” Boxer said.
Environmental groups and the president’s supporters echoed those comments, emphasizing the historic nature of an agreement that pushed China to make pledges it until now had resisted.
The U.S. and China together are responsible for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and major scientific panels have repeatedly and consistently said nations around the world need to work in concert to mitigate damage from climate change.
Still, even some of the president’s allies said the agreement wasn’t enough.
This announcement “is welcome and should increase the chances of a strong climate treaty next year,” said Kyle Ash, a legislative expert for the environmental group Greenpeace. Even so, the president’s “2025 emissions reduction targets are not strong enough,” he said.
Added Li Shuo of Greenpeace East Asia: “Both sides have yet to reach the goal of a truly game-changing climate relationship. There is a clear expectation of more ambition from these two economies whose emissions trajectories define the global response to climate change. Today’s announcements should only be the floor and not the ceiling of enhanced actions.”
Despite the Republicans’ dismissal of the agreement, it’s not clear what they can do about it — at least during Obama’s term. The White House says it can accomplish the agreement with regulations, not legislation; attempts by Republicans in Congress to scuttle it would face an uphill battle. They could attempt to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from finalizing or spending any money implementing the president’s climate-change rules. But those attempts would need to withstand a presidential veto, and as long as the White House is willing to expend some political capital to keep Democrats in line it would be able to knock down the Republican efforts, Greenpeace’s Ash said in an interview.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.