Pivotal role in sealing Paris climate accord

WASHINGTON • While the US and China agreed on little during President Barack Obama's term, one area on which they did find common ground was climate change.

The two countries were able to move the world forward on the issue, spurring the signing of the landmark Paris climate change deal.

The Paris Agreement took effect last Nov 4 - after parties accounting for over 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emission ratified it. It aims to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels. China and the US generate nearly 40 per cent of the world's emissions.

"If we follow through on the commitments that this Paris agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet," said Mr Obama in October after the 55 per cent threshold was achieved.

He said US leadership was pivotal in brokering the deal through international diplomacy but also mentioned China's role, giving a nod to the joint announcement both countries made in 2014 to reduce and cap emissions. While the US and China paved the way for other countries to set ambitious targets, Mr Obama last October said: "All of us have to solve it together."

Domestically, he led by example, setting aggressive energy and sustainability goals for the federal government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 28 per cent by 2020.

Citing climate change, Mr Obama rejected the building of the Keystone XL pipeline which would have carried 800,000 barrels of petroleum daily from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast and had become a symbol of what environmental activists were trying to fight.

Mr Obama acknowledged in a speech last November that approving the project "would have undercut" America's global leadership in the fight against climate change.

He used a law, in the last month of his presidency, to protect large parts of the Arctic and Atlantic seaboards, barring offshore drilling in those areas indefinitely. He also designated two national monuments in Utah and Nevada to protect these lands from exploitation, but there is concern the Trump administration may try to reverse his actions.

The in-coming president has called climate change a hoax created by China, and has wavered on whether he would withdraw the US from the Paris agreement. So climate and environmental advocates expect to have a fight on their hands to ensure the US does not roll back the progress made.

Melissa Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 08, 2017, with the headline 'Pivotal role in sealing Paris climate accord'. Print Edition | Subscribe