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Delaying Tactics: US, China Agree To Curb CO2 Emissions … After ‘Around 2030’

William Mauldin, The Wall Street Journal

The U.S. and China unveiled long-term plans to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to climate change, a surprise move aimed at kick-starting a new round of international climate negotiations and blunting domestic opposition to cuts in both countries.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have been coordinating their CO2-emissions plans for months and met to discuss them jointly Wednesday morning in Beijing, senior U.S. officials said in an earlier conference call with reporters.

The announcement, likely to influence global greenhouse-gas emissions in coming decades, caught most climate-change experts by surprise, as many observers had expected a softer commitment or a set of industry initiatives with limited impact.

The level and time frame of the emissions targets from Washington and Beijing are likely to disappoint some environmentalists, but leading experts concerned about climate change are pleased that China appears to be working in concert with the U.S. and European Union, rather than taking the side of developing countries.

Many emerging economies see carbon-dioxide levels as a problem that industrialized nations created over many years—and need to solve by themselves.

“For the longest time, China stood behind the apron strings of those developing countries,” said Paul Bledsoe climate expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States think tank. “The real story is: Is China really playing with the U.S. and Europe, or are they gaming us?”

The U.S., China, other major countries and the EU are expected to deliver their detailed plans for achieving the proposed cuts by March, following the formal launch of United Nations-organized climate talks next month in Lima, Peru.

The U.S.-China plan follows the EU’s emissions pledge last month, and a U.S. official said Washington’s commitment cuts carbon emissions at approximately an equal rate.

As part of its plan, the U.S. said Wednesday it would double the average pace of its carbon-dioxide reductions after 2020, eyeing an overall reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions of between 26% and 28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

The American target is built around the Obama administration’s existing regulations for vehicle-emissions standards and power plants. Leading oil and gas companies and power plans are expected to oppose any efforts to make deeper cuts than the ones they have faced already.

Republicans’ gains in the midterm elections will stiffen congressional opposition to emissions targets, but lawmakers may not be in a position to block them, because the administration already has developed much of the needed regulatory structure, the U.S. official said.

But Republicans protested the agreement announced by the White House, saying it would impose heavy costs on the nation’s coal industry.

“Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who is expected to become the Senate’s majority leader. “This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs.”

A key Democrat, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who will be relinquishing his Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship to the GOP next year, called the emissions agreement a “bold announcement” that would help eliminate long-standing resistance to controls by China as a reason for policy makers in Washington to delay U.S. action.

”China and the U.S. are acting in tandem to reduce emissions, drive down clean energy costs even further, and protect us from even more severe climate impacts,” Mr. Menendez said. “I applaud this announcement and will work to make sure both countries meet their commitments.”

For its part, China agreed Wednesday to stop increasing carbon-dioxide emissions by about 2030 or earlier, with fossil fuels falling to about 80% of Chinese energy use, U.S. officials said.

Some had been pressing China, which is still seeking rapid industrial growth, to commit to reducing emissions starting in 2025, or five years earlier, according to Elliot Diringer, executive vice president at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonpartisan think tank.

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