World’s biggest carbon emitters make major climate commitments

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Barack Obama Obama and Rousseff of Brazil hold a Press Conference, Washington DC, America - 30 Jun 2015 (Rex Features via AP Images)

It’s looking more likely that a global climate change deal could happen by year’s end in Paris with the United States and Brazil committing to use more renewables for electricity and China formalizing its plan to reduce emissions.

On Tuesday, the United States and Brazil made a joint commitment to use more renewable resources to produce electricity. Separately, China formalized details of its goal to reduce carbon emissions.

The three countries are in the top 10 carbon emitting counties in the world – with China and the United States taking the top one and two spots, respectively, according to the World Resources Institute. The countries accounted for 36 percent of global carbon emissions between 1990 and 2011. The latest announcements show that the countries plan to take action.

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Brazil and the United States pledged to produce 20 percent of electric power using renewable resources by 2030. Brazil also pledged to restore 46,332 square miles of forests over the same period of time. A joint statement from the two countries detailed how they will cooperate to achieve the goals through partnership and utilizing other international resources. Chief among the goals is stopping illegal deforestation.

China submitted its climate change action plan to the United Nations. President Xi Jinping committed to undertake efforts to reduce carbon emissions back in November. The document is a formal commitment and plan for emissions to peak by 2030. The commitment also includes a reduction of the economy’s 2005 carbon intensity by 60 percent to 65 percent by 2030.

“To act on climate change in terms of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing climate resilience, is not only driven by China’s domestic needs for sustainable development … but also driven by its sense of responsibility to fully engage in global governance, to forge a community of shared destiny for humankind and to promote common development for all human beings,” according to the translated submission to the United Nations.

The announcements were met with cautious optimism. China’s plan is not new, nor is it as aggressive as some climate change activists want. Greenpeace welcomed the fact that China took steps to formalize its effort to slow down carbon emissions, but said it is only “the starting point for much more ambitious action,” said Li Shuo, climate analyst for Greenpeace China, in a statement.

“China has only ever been in defense when it comes to climate change, but today’s announcement is the first step for its more active role. For success in Paris, however, all players – including China and the EU – need to up their game,” Shuo continued in the statement.

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President Obama met with Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff this week on a wide range of diplomatic issues. The joint statement on climate change was one of the most significant agreements during the visit. Obama signaled both his optimism that fellow large nations were joining the effort to address climate change and exerted further his potential for leading the way in the run up to Paris.

“Following progress during my trips to China and India, this shows that the world’s major economies can begin to transcend some of the old divides and work together to confront the common challenge that we face – something that we have to work on for future generations,” he said.

As pledges are made, the potential for a global climate change deal appears increasingly likely. Hopes are high that the scheduled meetings in Paris will yield commitments to slow the rate of carbon emission globally.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.