US, Chinese cities work on emissions targets

US President Barack Obama delivering remarks on climate change in Kotzebue, Alaska on Sept 2, 2015.
US President Barack Obama delivering remarks on climate change in Kotzebue, Alaska on Sept 2, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

Top negotiators from both sides meet in LA to announce joint action to curb pollution

WASHINGTON • US President Barack Obama's top climate change negotiator met his Chinese counterpart in Los Angeles on Tuesday to announce joint action by cities, states and provinces in both countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The summit follows a historic accord reached in Beijing in November by Mr Obama and President Xi Jinping, who pledged to enact policies to cut emissions significantly.

The meeting, attended by US senior climate change negotiator Todd Stern as well as US mayors and governors and Chinese mayors and other municipal leaders and climate change officials, is the first of its kind. White House officials said the meeting was intended to demonstrate that both countries were moving forward to meet the terms of their agreement.

Last month, Mr Obama unveiled a sweeping new regulation aimed at forcing heavily polluting power plants to cut emissions, and both the United States and China have submitted details of their national plans to the United Nations. After their meeting in November, Mr Obama said the US would reduce planet-warming carbon emissions by up to 28 per cent by 2025, while Mr Xi vowed that China would halt its emissions growth by 2030.

That announcement by the world's two biggest greenhouse gas polluters was seen as a breakthrough after decades of deadlock in efforts to forge an effective global accord on climate change.

Now Mr Obama and Mr Xi are pushing for the completion of such an accord, signed by every nation on Earth, at a United Nations summit in Paris this autumn.

The choice of Los Angeles for the latest meeting was no coincidence. California has by far the most aggressive state-level climate change policy in the country.

The state, which has an economy larger than that of all but a handful of countries, has put in place a cap-and-trade system, in which an overall limit is imposed on greenhouse gas pollution, and companies buy and sell permits to pollute.

On Tuesday, the two nations announced an arrangement between government entities in China and California to begin working towards devising cap-and-trade programmes in China. Several US climate policy experts have said that they envision a future in which California's cap-and-trade market could be linked with China's regional cap-and-trade markets.

In addition, the leaders of 11 Chinese cities, including Beijing, announced plans to reach their emissions peak earlier than the national target of 2030. Combined, those cities have the same annual level of emissions as Brazil or Japan, according to White House officials.

Ten cities from China will work with 10 from California in a separate initiative that aims to reduce air pollution and attract clean-technology industries.

While the US, China and more than 40 other countries have submitted their plans to cut carbon pollution ahead of the Paris meeting, other major polluters, including India and Brazil, have yet to do so.

UN officials have told those governments that for the Paris deal to work, the plans must be submitted by October. In Washington, Republican leaders are sceptical of the deal and are working to block it.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has begun reaching out to other countries to let them know he is doing everything he can to halt Mr Obama's climate change regulations, and thus prevent the United States from meeting its UN obligation.

Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, is also working to block the deal, saying the US would have to cut its emissions while China's pollution continues unabated.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'US, Chinese cities work on emissions targets'. Print Edition | Subscribe