US must match its words with action on climate
By Gao Qingxian,Ma Zhanyun,Li Yingxin and Yan Wei | CHINA DAILY
Updated: Nov 26, 2021
Combating climate change by, among other things, achieving carbon neutrality is necessary to not only protect our planet but also build a community with a shared future for mankind. So all countries should work together and adopt more effective policies and measures to achieve this goal.
In this regard, the joint China-US statement on climate change came as welcome relief for the world, simply because the global climate fight will not be successful without cooperation between the biggest developed country and the biggest developing country.
What's more important is that the US, like China, should take concrete actions to fight climate change.
Addressing the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 22,2020, President Xi Jinping pledged that China will peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, demonstrating the country's responsibility as a major power and commitment to fighting climate change.
In fact, President Xi has reiterated the pledge at several international events, explaining China's goals and visions for peaking carbon emissions and realizing carbon neutrality.
In line with the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Xi has explained to the world that China, as a developing country, faces an extremely arduous task in realizing the 2030 and 2060 goals, yet it will strive to honor its pledge.
Under the UNFCCC, developed countries need to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and set quantitative emissions reduction targets in line with the now expired Kyoto Protocol.
In 2019, developed countries emitted GHGs equivalent to 16.70 billion tons of carbon dioxide, of which the US contributed 6.56 billion tons, or 39.28 percent of the total. Taking 1990 as the base year, the US' greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased, but increased－by 1.80 percent－showing the negative impact of its bipartisan politics on global climate governance.
The Bill Clinton administration announced in November 1998 that the US would join the Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding global GHG emissions pact, promising to reduce its GHG emissions by 7 percent from the 1990 level.
But the George W. Bush administration withdrew the US from the Kyoto Protocol in August 2001 before the first commitment period, saying "reducing GHG emissions will affect the US' economic development" and that "developing countries should also bear the obligations and curb GHG and carbon emissions". As a result, the US not only failed to meet its emissions reduction target during the first commitment period from 2008 to 2012, but also its GHG emissions grew by an average of 6.79 percent every year.
And although the Barack Obama administration implemented more positive policies and measures to tackle climate change, such as signing the Paris Agreement on April 22, 2016, and ratifying it the same year, the US' greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow, compared with the 1990 level, increasing by 3.55 percent in 2015.
Despite that, the Donald Trump administration withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement and immediately stopped the implementation of National Determined Contributions under the UNFCCC and contribution to the Green Climate Fund. Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement for the same reason that George W. Bush withdrew the country from the Kyoto Protocol.
An analysis of GHG emissions trend during the four different administrations over a period of 28 years shows the US did not have a coherent, consistent, transparent or responsible climate change policy, nor did it fulfill its commitments to the international community on emissions reduction or provide support for developing countries. Worse, its total GHG emissions have continued to rise.
After the Biden administration took office in January 2021, the US has been trying again to use climate change to regain its leading position in the world. True, Biden restored the US as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, but the US' climate policy continues to fluctuate. So the Biden administration has to take concrete actions to prove it will match its words with action and uphold international rules.
The US should stop violating international rules by saying one thing and doing another on climate change. The lack of transparency in the formulation of its climate change policy and measures makes it difficult for the US to be recognized by the international community as a climate leader. As an old saying goes, "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me".
The authors are researchers with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.