At the 2015 Paris climate summit, world leaders agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and aim to bring the global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels. But how to do it was a point of contention. Now, at the summit in Glasgow, a deal between the United States and China offers new hope.
The US and China are the world’s two largest emitters of carbon. A day before the The Glasgow summit has ended, the two countries signed a deal on Thursday to strengthen cooperation in tackling climate change.
They have not announced new CO2 emissions targets, but have announced a commitment to work together to accelerate the emission reductions needed to comply with the 2015 Paris Agreement. The agreement between the US and China raised hopes for a positive conclusion to the global COP26 summit on Friday evening.
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China’s absence from the climate change action plan could threaten the Paris Agreement. The agreement between the US and China is important not only for counting carbon emissions, but also for lowering methane levels.
China has agreed to draw up a national roadmap to reduce methane emissions. Like carbon dioxide, methane is also a greenhouse gas, but has generally remained under the radar of climate activists and planners. Methane has an advantage over carbon dioxide and can serve as a cleaner alternative.
Methane-emitting natural gas is the preferred substitute for carbon dioxide-emitting coal. Although methane is about 20 times stronger as a greenhouse gas, it disappears in 20 years, while carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for about 100 years.
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The US-China deal is now also paving the way for resolving controversial issues of climate finance, carbon taxation and net-zero obligations, which proved to be nagging at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow.
Climate finance has been a bottleneck for more than 10 years. An agreement was reached in 2009 that the rich countries, the early mass polluters, would contribute $100 billion in climate finance by 2020. The purpose of this agreement was to generate money for cleaner energy by the historical polluters. But the rich countries have already missed the 2020 deadline.
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Countries are required to levy carbon taxes, imposing a price on carbon emissions and all the goods and services that result from them. Simply put, high carbon products — rich countries consume them the most — will become more expensive in developed countries.
Another sensitive point is the net zero obligation. It has fallen below expectations. In Glasgow, COP26 pushed for a common deadline of 2050. China was a dissident and set 2060 as the deadline year. India pushed it further to 2070.
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The use of coal and oil is another subject of intense debate. Experts want to phase out fossil fuels, but the promises are disappointing. China, the largest coal user, recently revived coal blocks and coal-based power plants after a massive power crisis. India, on the other hand, has yet to develop a plan to phase out coal. Saudi Arabia, one of the largest oil producers and exporters, is lobbying hard to keep the oil going for as long as possible.
However, the US-China agreement opens a new window for negotiators as they meet for a climate summit to finalize the Paris Agreement rulebook.