Obama Reaches Climate Deal with China — and GOP Congress May Not Be Able to Stop It

November 12, 2014

The United States and China, the world’s two largest polluters, have agreed on new target limits for greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade. Announcing the deal in China with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Obama said the United States will set a goal of reducing carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, a doubling of current reduction efforts. China has also made its first-ever commitment to stop emissions from growing by 2030. We are joined by Jake Schmidt, director of the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The United States and China, the world’s two largest carbon polluters, have announced a joint plan to begin implementing limits on greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade. President Obama announced the accord at a news conference in Beijing.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today I can also announce that the United States has set a new goal of reducing our net greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025. This is an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable goal. It will double the pace at which we’re reducing carbon pollution in the United States. It puts us on a path to achieving the deep emissions reductions by advanced economies that the scientific community says is necessary to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China’s first-ever commitment to stop its emissions from growing by 2030.

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: [translated] We published a joint statement about dealing with climate change and together announced our individual action goals for after 2020. We have agreed to push forward international climate change talks at the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris and to deepen practical cooperation in the fields of clean energy and environmental protection between our two countries.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the U.S.-China deal, we’re joined by Jake Schmidt, director of the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He’s joining us from Washington, D.C.

Jake Schmidt, your response to the deal? And first, lay out what it is.

JAKE SCHMIDT: Hi, Amy. Thanks for having me on. Well, the deal is an agreement between the two countries in terms of the next steps in their carbon cuts. So, as we go into the international agreement next year in Paris, countries are supposed to propose what they will do for the period after 2020. And this is these two countries stepping up and saying what their targets will be for that period. So, the U.S. has proposed to further strengthen their target by cutting them to 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, as President Obama outlined, and the Chinese have outlined that, for the first time, they are going to commit to have their CO2 emissions peak, which is a huge deal given their fast-growing economy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, in terms of the statement by President Obama, to what degree is this largely symbolic, since obviously he would need some kind of congressional support or endorsement of such a policy?

JAKE SCHMIDT: Well, our assessment has looked at this, and we’ve come up with a very strong conclusion, which is that this can actually be achieved under the existing law. Congress has passed the Clean Air Act. Congress has given them the authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And we expect that this kind of target can be met without having to go back to Congress for new legislation. Clearly, we have to ensure that Congress doesn’t try to stop that, but the president does have the power to veto those, and we expect that this and future administrations will clearly send that signal, that any efforts to try to roll back these landmark agreements will be undercut.

AMY GOODMAN: After the deal was announced, Senate Minority Leader—who could me majority leader—Mitch McConnell said, quote, "Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners. This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs." Jake Schmidt, your response?

JAKE SCHMIDT: Well, we’ve proven time and time again that you can grow the American economy and not—and solve environmental challenges. We’re having a booming wind and solar market that’s creating jobs in the United States. People are installing energy-efficient windows and light bulbs and insulation throughout the U.S. So, we’re confident that as America continues to invest in these clean energy solutions, that it won’t drive the economy into bankruptcy, as some claim. In fact, the opposite has been proven over the past decades, where we’ve been proven that, you know, the reality is that America can grow and can still solve our environmental challenges.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jake, one question about the Chinese commitment. They’re talking about producing 20 percent of all of China’s energy needs by 2030 from nonfossil fuel energy. How big a deal is that, and what would it take for the Chinese government to be able to accomplish that?

JAKE SCHMIDT: They’re about halfway to that goal now, which is a huge challenge as they go forward. They have clearly broken almost every record that’s been ever set in terms of wind and solar deployment. So the Chinese have proven that they can actually deploy these clean energy solutions. And they’ll just have to double down on it. But the reality is, is that China builds out sort of its next branch of energy infrastructure—the cost of wind and solar and energy efficiency is much more cost-competitive with things like coal. And given—excuse me—given the challenging air pollution in China, it’s quite clear that they cannot continue to rely on coal, because that’s just having a devastating impact on their own citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Last year, the Climate Desk compiled a video of Republican lawmakers talking about China and climate change.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: We can’t do it alone as one nation.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE: Problem is in China, the problem is in Mexico, the problem is in India.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: If we got India, China and other industrialized countries not working with us, all we’re going to do is ship millions of American jobs overseas.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: China made the comment that they will not be engaging in a cap-and-trade system.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: There are other countries that are polluting in the atmosphere much greater than we are at this point. China, India, they’re not going to stop doing what they’re doing.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: They won’t be engaging and reducing their own emissions.

SEN. JIM DEMINT: This motion, what it does, it would prevent Congress from passing any law with new mandates on greenhouse gas emissions, unless both China and India had the same mandates.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: America is a country, it’s not a planet.

SEN. DAVID VITTER: If countries like China and India and Russia aren’t part of a carbon reduction global program, that it does not matter what we do.

SEN. JIM DEMINT: And it makes no sense if we don’t require the major—the industrial countries like China and India to do the same thing.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Jim DeMint, that last voice, now the head of Heritage Foundation. Jake Schmidt, your final comment, since China is now at the table?

JAKE SCHMIDT: Well, for almost two decades, we’ve heard from the opposition that they want other countries like China to also be engaged in this battle. And this is a clear sign that China is going to engage in that. They have made a commitment to peak their CO2 emissions, and they’ve done it as a part of an international agreement, or they will next year. So this is, I think, a huge shift in the political debate in the U.S. But clearly, we expect that the opposition will continue to trot out these lines as we go forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Jake Schmidt, we want to thank you for being with us, director of the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. And you are with Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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