Let’s Stop And Be Realistic Before Celebrating The U.S.-China Climate Change Deal

Sameera Ehteram
When it comes to environmental deals and pacts, aren’t they just promises hardly ever kept?

US China

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and United States President Barack Obama signed a deal Wednesday to limit greenhouse gases.

It is big news because this is the first time that China has committed to cap carbon emissions  and Obama has also unveiled a plan for deeper U.S. emissions reductions – 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This is also the first time he set a goal beyond the existing 17 percent target by 2020.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon even praised the initiative. "Today, China and the United States have demonstrated the leadership that the world expects of them," he said. "This leadership demonstrated by the Governments of the world’s two largest economies will give the international community an unprecedented chance to succeed at reaching a meaningful, universal agreement in 2015."

The deal is being lauded as "historic" and a "landmark," and it may just be; but is it likely to make a real difference?

The point is debatable since following up on the promises and taking effective action on the initiative is certainly a different ball game all together.

US China

China is a high risk country in terms of carbon emissions. It actually emits more greenhouse gases than the U.S. and the European Union combined. The country’s hard-to-deny economic growth has cost the country serious environmental damage. It is not only the world's largest source of carbon emissions, but is also responsible for a third of the planet's greenhouse gas output.

Read More: To Tackle Pollution, China To Drop Pursuit Of Growth At All Costs

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The U.S. is no better.

It is responsible for about 20 percent of total global warming since industrialization. According to 2011 statistics, the U.S. ranked second among countries which produced “the most carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emissions (per capita)” as well as “carbon footprints” (when emissions are measured in terms of consumption rather than production).

In 2013, “Climate Change in the American Mind” survey found that 1 in 4 Americans think that global warming is not happening, and half say they are "worried" about it.  

Add to it the appointment of James Inhofe, who is a vocal denier of climate change, to the Senate committee that oversees U.S. environmental policy – things get murkier.

What can be expected from a man who thinks global warming as a “conspiracy” and a “hoax?” He even has a book out on the subject titled, of all the things, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

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There has been much talk, too many initiatives as well as deals, understandings and agreements on being accountable in terms of the Earth’s environment and pollution including the like of 1997 Kyoto Protocol – an agreement that entails 38 industrialized nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions as well as the one  that U.S. itself refused to be a part of and dropped out in 2001, even before it came in to effect in 2005.

That is the reason why despite all the talks, treaties, agreements and global summits, global greenhouse-gas emissions haven’t gone down.

And that is pretty much why we should put a hold on celebrations and pats on the back till the time there actually is some change.