Why the US–China climate deal is good news:

Good Timing

Timing isn’t everything but it sure helps. After the mid-term elections, the mood in climate circles was getting pretty grim. We faced the prospect of a Republican-dominated House and Senate overturning emission controls, ramming through Keystone XL and elevating a climate denier (James Inhofe) to chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Already there was talk that upcoming UN climate negotiations were dead on arrival.

In this context, the US-China climate deal is a badly needed piece of good news. It signals that Barack Obama is willing to expend political capital fighting for his climate legacy.

It Makes It Harder For Republicans to Break Obama’s Promises

The deal is also tactically smart: by tying the emission reduction targets of both countries together in a bilateral deal, the President is making sure that his successor will have to weigh any desire to break these commitments against the risks of alienating America most important trading partner. That’s smart.

It Robs Climate Obstructionists of Their Best Argument

Most significantly, commitments made by China under the deal take away what has historically been the most effective argument in defense of climate negligence in the US: “Why should we stop polluting if China won’t?” For the first time, China is committing to capping its emissions and acknowledging that there must be a limit to its coal-powered growth juggernaut.

It Shows that Movements Matter

The fact that both governments felt the need to make this pledge speaks to the growing power of social movements in China and the US demanding pollutions controls. In the US, 350,000 people marched in NYC in September demanding action. In China, soaring air pollution levels in major cities have put unprecedented pressure on the governing party to stop relying on coal. Particularly in the context of the Hong Kong protests, the Chinese government cannot afford to ignore public opinion.

The Deal Will Galvanize North American Movements Against Tar Sands Pipelines and Coal Export Terminals

Recent years have seen a proliferation of movements blocking the infrastructure needed to export dirty fossil fuels to Asia. This deal makes it clear that the market for such dirty products is winding down in China, which is one more reason for companies not to invest billions in new pipelines or export terminals. Low oil prices are already taking a toll on more expensive extraction methods like tar sands mining and this deal will be another strike against them.

It’s Not Enough – But That’s What Movements Are For

Both governments are still failing to make climate policy in line with the severity of the crisis, and both are leaving the hardest work for their successors. As I argue in This Changes Everything, we cannot lower emissions in line with science without much deeper economic changes. But pledges matter because movements can harness them to win even more.

It Makes Sense Because the US and China are Already Bound Together by Carbon Pollution

Much of China’s emissions come from producing the products that Westerners buy. It never made sense to treat such an integrated and global challenge as something that individual nations could tackle on their own: transnational problems call for transnational solutions. That said, emissions won’t go down by as much as they need to go down until we in the West start consuming less useless stuff, wherever it is made.

Trade Deals Could Still Trump This Progress

As I argue in the book, free trade deals and World Trade Organization rules are increasingly being used to undercut important climate policies, by blocking subsidies for renewable energy and other supports for the clean energy sector. The mindless expansion of cross-border trade also fuels carbon-intensive consumption and emissions growth, and NAFTA-style pacts bestow corporations with outrageous powers to challenge national policies at international tribunals. Climate objectives could yet be undermined by the US-China deal on high-tech goods, which still has to be approved by the WTO, or by a massive new regional trade agreement like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Stay tuned…

Section: 

Topics: 

Comments

Thanks for this keen analysis, as always, from Naomi Klein. I'm glad to hear something really good about this "good" news, from someone who really knows.
Ms. Klein is right. Paul Krugman said much the same thing earlier this week. And as both Klein and Krugman pointed out this is just one step in the right direction, but an important 1st step
Although I agree with Naomi Klien's general take on the Obama commitment, there is some risk that unless those of us who understand the significance of the carbon budget for policy, something mentioned in "This Changes Everything", educate US citizens about why the Obama commitment does still not approach what the would be required of the US if it took its ethical obligations to reduce US emissions to the US fair share of safe global emissions that the US Press will continue to cover US response to climate change without educating American citizens about the staggering magnitude of US reductions that are needed. Most Americans including politicians and journalists do not understand the significance for policy of a carbon budget to limit warming to 2 degrees C. Donald A. Brown, Widener University School of Law
Although I agree with Naomi Klien's general take on the Obama commitment, there is some risk that unless those of us who understand the significance of the carbon budget for policy, something mentioned in "This Changes Everything", educate US citizens about why the Obama commitment does still not approach what the would be required of the US if it took its ethical obligations to reduce US emissions to the US fair share of safe global emissions that the US Press will continue to cover US response to climate change without educating American citizens about the staggering magnitude of US reductions that are needed. Most Americans including politicians and journalists do not understand the significance for policy of a carbon budget to limit warming to 2 degrees C. Donald A. Brown, Widener University School of Law
China deal is not what is suggested. More dams and nuclear plants as China reaches 2030 when carbon was peaking anyway? Inaccurate description of China's position doesn't hold the argument together.
America's CO2 output is already down due to the success of fracking and the failure of the Obama economy. Why should Americans accept further cuts while China waits 16 years before maybe beginning to cut? Where are India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, etc. on an agreement to cut? .

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

Carolina Panthers

If the black citizens of Charlotte and white supporters of justice block the entrance to the stadium on Sunday, I...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter