US And China Reach Agreement On Climate Change Efforts

While most news outlets focused on cyber security and ongoing trade issues, the weekend summit between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping did make some other news. In terms of global efforts to reduce the impact of climate change, the news that the US and China have agreed to phase down hydroflucorcarbons, which are chemicals usually used in refrigerators and foams, is most welcome.

China and the US said they will cooperate through the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs, which do not deplete the ozone layer, but are potent greenhouse gases.

According to a White House backgrounder, “HFC emissions growth could grow to nearly 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, a serious climate mitigation concern” if no action is taken.

Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), hailed the announcement, saying it will help move the world “towards a universal UN treaty on climate change by 2015 -certainly allowing the market for HFCs to grow will only aggravate the challenge of combating climate change”.

Environment And Economic Growth
Much of the opposition to adopting sweeping environmental changes in the US is tied to the belief that it will negatively impact the economy, which supporters dismiss those considerations as arguments of climate-deniers. In fact, the economic truth lies somewhere in the middle.

While the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, has been a source of much opposition and controversy in the United States, the Montreal Protocol is more widely-embraced. The Protocol is focused on phasing out the production of numerous substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion.

Rupert Darwall recently penned an opinion in the Wall Street Journal maintaining that US policy on climate change is not “a prisoner of free-market ideology,” but is a product of “hardheaded pragmatism.”

Darwall notes that former Secretary of State George Shultz described Montreal as a “magnificent achievement,” while former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan said it was the single most successful international agreement to date.

In making his case for a pragmatic approach, Darwall cites a 2007 study which found that for each $1 billion the U.S. spent complying with Montreal, an estimated $170 billion in benefits was generated, compared with $37 million in benefits from Kyoto.

Emerging Economies Leading On Mitigation Efforts
While the US continues to oppose the broader Kyoto Protocol, many emerging economies are moving forward with policies aimed at mitigating climate change precisely as a way to “grow sustainably,” Ned Helme writes in The National Journal.

Helme says developing countries adopting policies known as nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs), which he characterizes as “transformational programs that not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also spur sustainable development, reduce poverty and catalyze private sector investment.”

In recent weeks, representatives from many of the developing world met in Copenhagen to discuss a broader approach to mitigation efforts.

Their efforts are similar to the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDMs), which focused on large funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation, but differs in a very important way, says an editorial in

According to the editorial, while the CDM is project and sector-based, “NAMAs are ‘bottom up’ because they rely on developing countries taking unilateral initiatives which can rely on offsets or on other means to catalyse finance. China, India and Brazil for example have already announced and are trying to implement sector-wide or economy-wide reductions in their emissions under a NAMA umbrella; though these announcements are voluntary in nature and non-binding.”






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