By Andrew Restuccia and Eric Wolff
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to formally commit their nations to last year’s Paris climate change agreement in the coming days, a move that would increase pressure on other nations to follow suit and serve as an implicit rebuke to the deal’s skeptics inside the U.S.
Two sources briefed on the possible announcement said that U.S. and Chinese officials are laying plans for Obama and Xi to officially join the agreement this weekend during the president’s trip to China for the G-20 summit in Hangzhou.The move would put the weight of the world’s top two carbon dioxide polluters behind the pact, and comes as Republicans including Donald Trump continue to pillory the international agreement. Obama has made leading an international charge to fight climate change a top priority of his final years in office.
The White House declined to comment.
The sources cautioned that the exact timing of the announcement is in flux, and they said negotiations between the two countries are ongoing. Obama and Xi are scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting on Saturday in China, but one source said the announcement could come even earlier. Obama will speak on Wednesday in Nevada at an energy and water summit hosted by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and he’ll travel to Hawaii for a conservation summit with leaders from Pacific Island nations. On Thursday he’ll stop in Midway Atoll to talk about the recently created national monument before continuing on to China.
Obama has pressed several initiatives to address climate change in his second term, issuing a myriad of executive orders and administrative rules to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and joining forces with world leaders to engineer the landmark international accord that nearly 200 nations finalized in Paris last December. Obama does not have to submit that international pact to the Senate, a move that has drawn fierce criticism from Republicans who control Congress and would certainly vote it down.
While the U.S. and more than 170 other nations signed the agreement at the United Nations in the spring, 55 nations representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions must take the additional procedural step of joining or ratifying the agreement before it can take effect.
The U.S. and China together comprise 40 percent of world emissions, putting the deal much closer to Obama’s goal of bringing it into force this year. The two leaders are planning to pressure the G-20 leaders – whose countries produce 80 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions – to follow suit. Should enough countries join the deal to put it into effect before the end of the year, the next president, regardless of party, might be stuck with its terms.
It would take years for the United States to formally withdraw from the Paris agreement once it enters into force and international diplomats warn that any effort by Trump to turn his back on the deal would compromise delicate relationships with other nations. But there is little stopping Trump from ignoring the deal altogether, since it contains no penalties for failing to uphold the national pledges to reduce emissions.
Trump, who once tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” told Fox News earlier this year that “China does not do anything to help climate change. They burn everything you could burn; they couldn’t care less. … In the meantime, they can undercut us on price.”
One person briefed by the administration said that Obama is slated to hold a bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to China (though the White House did not announce a meeting with Modi in a Monday briefing on the trip schedule). Obama will encourage the Indian leader to quickly join the Paris deal and support an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases that exacerbate climate change. Diplomats are scheduled to meet in Rwanda in October to iron out the final details of the amendment.
The decision to join the agreement marks the culmination of a years-long campaign by the Obama administration to build strong ties with China on climate change. In November 2014, Xi and Obama unveiled a historic breakthrough in the decades-long negotiations over tackling climate change, with each country committing to limit their emissions. Since then, U.S. and Chinese officials have built close ties, with Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, White House climate adviser Brian Deese and others keeping in regular contact with officials there.
Deese traveled to China earlier this month to meet with senior officials to lay the groundwork for the announcement. Meanwhile, Kerry and Pershing are currently in India meeting with senior officials, and climate change is on the agenda.
Obama administration officials hope the announcement will embolden other countries to quickly join the agreement. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is holding a summit on Sept. 21 in New York aimed at further pressuring countries to formally ratify the deal.
“This is the beginning of the final big push on international climate by the president,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Bill Clinton White House climate adviser who closely tracks climate negotiations.
The South China Morning Post reported last week that the U.S. and China were planning to join the agreement ahead of the G-20 summit.
Republicans and conservative groups are furious that the U.S. is pushing forward with the deal despite what GOP leaders see as significant legal shortcomings.
“I expect more hot air on this so-called announcement,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Environment Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “This is another attempt by the president to go around Congress in order to achieve his unpopular and widely rejected climate agenda for his legacy. The Senate does not support the Paris Agreement which is why his administration prefers to not call it a treaty.”
The agreement was crafted to help the U.S. avoid Senate ratification, as is constitutionally required for treaties. Instead the structure of the agreement, which lays out goals but contains few legally binding requirements, allows the U.S. to formally join the agreement by having the president sign documents and then submit them to the U.N.
Republican presidential nominee Trump has threatened to “cancel” the climate agreement if he is elected, but putting it into force could make such an action more complicated.
“I’m disappointed the Obama Administration plans to take this miserable executive action which allows countries like China and India to continue growing their economies and increasing greenhouse gas emissions while we subject our economy to unnecessary limits on greenhouse gas emissions,” North Dakota Congressman and Trump adviser Kevin Cramer said in a statement. “The only thing this action has going for it is the lack of full force and effect of law.”
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton counts progress toward the agreement as one of her successes from her time as Secretary of State and has promised to support the accord if elected.
Greens have praised the Paris agreement from the moment it was struck, and they were pleased to hear the U.S. and China were laying plans to join.
“This announcement will be the clearest indication yet that the world is coming together to tackle the climate crisis and embrace the transition from dirty fossil fuels to a clean energy economy,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.
The agreement is a major portion of the administration’s broad attempt to curb U.S. contributions to climate change. In August 2015, the EPA finalized a rule to reduce emissions from power plants. Though the Supreme Court put a hold on the rule while legal issues are untangled, the agency has continued to work with states aiming to implement the rules’ goals.
The Interior Department is in the process of reviewing coal leasing on public land, and it has produced a rule to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. And the administration has issued executive orders calling on the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across its operations and in its supply chain. – Source: Politico
Meanwhile, on the expected announcement by US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping officially joining last year’s Paris agreement, May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org issued the following statement:
“The Paris Agreement could be the next nail in the coffin of the fossil fuel industry if governments actually follow through on their commitments. The only way to reach the 1.5° or 2.0°C targets is by keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground. While it’s not everything we hoped for, the implementation of the Paris Agreement will radically remake the energy sector. The US-China announcement serves as another warning bell for investors to take climate risk seriously and divest from fossil fuel companies.
While people celebrate the agreement, let’s remember there is still a dangerous gap between what the governments are signing up to, what they are doing, and the real ambition we need to avert the worst impacts of climate change. As a movement, we will continue to push governments to go well beyond their current targets and accelerate the transition to 100% renewable energy.”
By Andrew Restuccia and Eric Wolff