US-China climate deal: historic breakthrough or business as usual?


On 12 November, US President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced a “historic” climate deal.

But while trade unions and civil society organisations applaud the move as a step in the right direction, they have also questioned the scale of its ambition.

The United States and China currently emit 45 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In the agreement, the United States has voluntarily committed to reduce its carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025, nearly twice the existing target.

For China, the agreement includes targets to peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030.

The announcement may mark climate change as a priority issue for two of the world’s most powerful nations, but while political momentum for climate action is high, climate ambition remains low.

Kim Glas, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, which brings together major US trade unions and environmental organisations, said in a statement:

“With this monumental agreement, the United States and President Obama are leading by example.

“These actions lay the foundation for further international action to significantly reduce carbon emissions and to help keep America’s economy and the manufacturing sector on a level playing field.”

But Glas said there is much more to be done.

“We call on the leadership of the new Congress to acknowledge the reality of climate change and to demonstrate it can govern.

“Continued efforts are necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change and to put our economy back on solid ground.”

In the agreement, the baseline year to compare US emissions reductions is 2005, the highest recorded year in terms of carbon emissions in the USA. This makes for easy comparisons.

Change the baseline year to 1990 and the reduction target becomes just 13 per cent.

China has agreed to reduce its carbon emissions but the deadline is too far away to avoid temperatures rising above 2°C

As Li Shuo of Greenpeace China said in response to the announcement: “If both countries are serious about the science of climate change then today’s announcement should be the floor, not the ceiling, of climate action ambition.”


Climate jobs

Last week, the UK Energy Research Centre released a report revealing that renewable energy projects are creating ten times more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel projects.

The report used data from 50 different studies published since 2000 on the relationship between green energy investment and job creation in the USA, Europe and China.

In the United States for instance, the US Department’s Bureau of Labour projected that in 2022 there will be 24 per cent more solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine technicians than in 2012.

While commendable, more ambition in both China and the US is needed to unleash a wave of green and decent job creation.

Sharan Burrow, the secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) who is currently attending the L20 meeting in Brisbane ahead of the G20 Leaders’ Summit, told Equal Times:

“Unions have made clear that more ambition on climate grounds will protect working people’s lives as well as fostering green job creation.

“World leaders’ must listen to their citizens and ensure plans at the table in the Paris 2015 conference are coherent with a 2°C trajectory.”