China and US deal on climate change a ‘turning point’

Economic growth in China accompanied by dreadful environmental consequences

The United States and China, the world's biggest polluters and its two largest economies, formally ratified the Paris climate change agreement at the G20 summit in Hangzhou in a move described as a "milestone" by President Xi Jinping.

China's appalling record on environmental issues has undermined its spectacular economic growth story. The majority of the world's most polluted cities are in China and, according to the World Bank, 90 per cent of Chinese cities fail to meet their own government's standards.

“The Paris agreement concluded last year is a milestone and heralds a global system. It was under Chinese leadership that much of this progress was made,” Mr Xi told a press conference.

Political hot potato

Combating pollution has become an issue for the Chinese government in the world’s most populous nation as part of its efforts to maintain social stability. The Beijing government has promised to cut coal consumption and source 20 per cent of its energy from non-fossil fuels by 2030.


China and the US produce about 45 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide.

“China is the largest developing country, and the US is the largest developed country . . . hopefully this will encourage other countries to take similar efforts. A Chinese saying goes: only commitment and decision will lead to great achievement,” Mr Xi said.

The Paris agreement, sealed in December after two weeks of tough negotiations, requires the US to cut emissions by up to 28 per cent by 2025 compared with 2005, and will oblige the EU to step up its climate change actions, such as a pledge to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 on 1990 levels.

Mr Xi said perseverance, joint contribution and shared benefits were essential.

“When the old path no longer takes us far, we should make use of new methods. Innovation should be given a fresh boost,” Mr Xi said.

Leading by example

Mr Obama

said the joint announcement showed America was prepared to “put its money where its mouth is”.

“Despite our differences on other issues we hope that our willingness to work together on this issue will inspire greater ambition and greater action around the world,” he said.

“And when it comes to combating climate change that is what we are doing . . . we are leading by example.”

Environmental groups have welcomed the decision.

"The world finally has a global climate agreement with both the US and China as formal parties. This signals a new era in global efforts to address climate change," said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International.

The group's senior climate policy adviser and China specialist Li Shuo said the agreement sent a strong signal.

“Today’s commitment brings the possibility of the Paris agreement entering into force early much closer to reality. But this moment should be seen as a starting point, not the finale, of global action on climate.”

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing