Skip to main content

Putting Together the Pieces of the Recent Carbon Deal

The U.S. and China just released a bold climate plan, but it will take some effort to ensure that the plan comes to fruition.

Barbie Jeep

Barbie Jeeps, like climate deals, require some assembly to come to fruition

Photo courtesy of Monica D. (Flickr)

Even as major news outlets continue to close their environmental reporting desks, climate change seems to be all over the wires lately thanks to a recent deal between the U.S. and China to cut carbon emissions.

My first reaction to the recent media blitz on climate change was: Now you’re paying attention? I’ve been freaking out about climate change for years. In fact, I’ve already begun my mourning process, quietly saying farewell to the familiar birds and bees and my favorite streams that may not be around much longer. My ten-year plan may or may not include a bug out bag and maps of remote locations that should continue to have fresh water sources and conditions suitable for planting nine months out of the year. Needless to say, I’ve already accepted humanity’s impending doom.

So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up to headlines like, “The U.S. and China Reach a Landmark Climate Deal” and “In Climate Deal With China, Obama May Set 2016 Theme.” 

For me, Christmas had just come early.

Growing up, I wished for a Barbie Jeep every holiday season, waiting with excitement and anticipation that ultimately never came to fruition. (Yes, I was a 90’s kid.) With the fervor I know I would have had tearing the packaging off of that Barbie Jeep, I jumped into these news stories hoping for the best, but expecting to find a few caveats similar to the small print on toy box labels noting that some assembly may be required.

This is what I found: The world’s two largest CO2 emitters have finally come to the conclusion that they must cut their dependence on fossil fuels in order to avert a climate disaster. China agreed to cap its emissions and increase its amount of clean energy resources by 20% by 2030, and the U.S. will have to double its carbon reduction efforts before 2025. In order to achieve its goal, China must create enough energy from nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission sources by 2030 to replace all the energy created at coal-fired power plants that exist there today. This is roughly equivalent to the total electricity generating capacity of the United States.

Some assembly required, indeed.

Some congressional leaders were quick to attack the plan, and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KT) even claimed that this “unrealistic plan… would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs.” Here, here and here are a whole bunch of reasons why that’s not true.

But as challenging as President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s goals may seem, the importance of this agreement should not be understated. This is the first time that China and the U.S. have come together to cooperate on climate change, finally taking a lead in sorting out this truly international quagmire. Responsible for about 45% of the world’s carbon emissions, climate change cannot be addressed without these countries on board. This agreement will also encourage other countries to stick to their commitments to cut carbon, and it will lend voice to the pressure that needs to be placed on other countries that have made no such commitments.

I may have never received that Barbie Jeep as a child, but I did play with enough toys that required assembly to learn a thing or two. I figured out that the more effort I put into something at the beginning, the more return I got out of it in the end. If these leaders and their governments follow through on this deal, we may find that the world is far better off than if we never committed to putting the pieces together at all. 

We're the lawyers for the environment, and the law is on our side.