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What's missing from the U.S.-China climate deal

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Nov 17, 2023, 5:13:23 PM11/17/23

The newly announced climate deal between China and the United States could
mark a turning point in international efforts by putting the world’s two
biggest polluters on the same page.

But both countries remain firmly wedded to the main driver of global
warming: fossil fuels. And it’s unclear how far they are willing to go to
meet climate goals, write Benjamin Storrow and Sara Schonhardt.

The agreement — laid out this week by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and
his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua — includes pledges to triple global
renewable energy capacity by 2030, cut fossil fuel emissions and include
all greenhouse gases in the climate plans that countries submit under the
Paris Agreement.

However, both countries are still heavy producers of fossil fuels.

Coal remains a bedrock of China’s economy, and the country has added over
44 gigawatts of coal power in the last two years to meet increased power
demand. In the United States, oil and natural gas production is setting
domestic records.

A matter of when

The countries are pledging to speed up clean energy deployment “so as to
accelerate the substitution for coal, oil and gas generation” in their own

China had installed 758 GW of wind and solar capacity as of last year. In
2023, it is on track to add 210 GW from solar installations — about twice
that of the U.S., which is also pouring billions into clean energy through
the Inflation Reduction Act.

Some analysts say China’s renewables are poised to outpace electricity
demand, which could prompt a steady decline in the country’s emissions.
But it’s unclear exactly when that will happen, with Chinese President Xi
Jinping committing only to achieving peak emissions before 2030.

“The level at which they peak also matters because the higher China’s
emissions go, the harder it will be to achieve the rapid reductions that
are necessary,” said Kelly Sims Gallagher, who leads the Center for
International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University.

A united front?

The agreement came just before President Joe Biden had his first meeting
in a year with Xi. It all points to a rebuilding of ties after a rocky
year when the relationship soured over broader geopolitical and economic

But it’s not all rosy.

Shortly after their meeting on Wednesday, Biden referred to Xi (not for
the first time) as a “dictator.” Such comments have sparked outrage from
Chinese officials in the past and could inflame upcoming talks.

The two countries also remain at odds over a “loss and damage” fund to
support victims of increased natural disasters and sea levels.
Negotiations over the fund are likely to play an important role at the
United Nations climate summit, or COP28, starting Nov. 30 in Dubai, United
Arab Emirates.

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