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November 13, 2014

China and U.S. pledge action on climate change


China and the U.S. made a surprise announcement this week that both countries would cut carbon emissions in an effort to prevent the most negative effects of climate change.

President Obama said the U.S. would cut carbon emissions by more than a quarter by 2025, an increased commitment from an earlier plan to decrease emissions by 17 percent. China said it would cap carbon emissions and try to use non-carbon sources for 20 percent of its energy by 2030.

The two countries have the largest economies in the world and emit the most greenhouse gases; combined, they account for 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. These gases trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and cause the global temperature to rise, which scientists agree will lead to drastic consequences if left unaddressed.

The U.S. already has regulations and structure in place that will help keep this commitment, according to Michael Oppenheimer, a professor at Princeton University.

China most likely supported the plan to address its air pollution issues and to diversify its energy sources, which will improve its energy security, Oppenheimer said.

“We’re already on the downward glide path… We can do it with technologies and measures that are already known and available,” he said.

The deal has wider implications for the relationship between the U.S. and China, two countries that are highly competitive in global markets.

“Both governments have demonstrated that they have the will to cooperate, despite the growing rivalry between them,” according to Susan Shirk, a professor at UC San Diego.

Public opinion is in favor of addressing climate change. 65 percent of Americans in a Pew Research Center Poll said they backed emissions limits as a way to address climate change.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell criticized the plan, saying it required more of an effort from the U.S. than from China. But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged other nations to follow the U.S. and China’s lead and reduce their own carbon emissions.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is China? What are some of its neighboring countries and important bodies of water?
  2. How would you describe the relationship between the United States and China?
  3. What is the connection between economic growth and pollution?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What are greenhouse gases and what is their effect on the environment?
  2. The top 10 highest polluting countries in the world emit 69% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emission. Why do you think that is and what should be done about it?
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