The big news from this past week was on the ‘China-US’ deal on emission cuts.
So what’s the big deal?
China and the US are global leaders in the world economy and also the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. For long, both countries have steered clear of a commitment to reduce their emissions and collaborate with other countries on climate change mitigation or popularly called ‘2 ° limit’ programme. The two countries put together account for nearly 44% of the global greenhouse gas( Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Fluorine compounds) emissions but their joint statement proclaimed that their current contribution is only 33%. As per their joint declaration, US has agreed to cut their current carbon dioxide emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 and a quarter of a century later peg that number at 80%. China on the other hand has said its carbon dioxide emissions will hit the bell curve peak by 2030 and it will try to reach that by 2029 and thereafter see a decline and by 2030 its energy mix will have a 20% renewable energy contribution.
China and US over the years
The US has for long been the single largest emitter of Carbon dioxide (CO2). China accounted for only 30% of the US’s total CO2 emissions in 1980 (for when we have the first data). But Chinese emissions have been increasing ever since and on the turn of 21st century, it saw a meteoric rise, in nearly 8 years (2000-2008) it has doubled its CO2 emissions and overtook the US in 2008 and ever since has been the leader in CO2 emissions.
Why cut the emissions?
Greenhouse gas emissions leads to climate change and increase in temperature which in turn results drastic weather changes, rise in water levels etc. The ‘2 ° limit’ is what climate scientists define as the maximum permissible increase mean global surface temperature compared to the 18th century (pre-industrial world) beyond which we are bound for catastrophic destruction. And to stay within that limit we have to ensure the carbon dioxide equivalent in atmosphere is within 480ppm (Parts per million) and our global carbon dioxide emissions have to be in the range of 52-56Gt (Giga Tonnes).
In 2011, the CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere was in the range of 430ppm, expected to reach 450ppm by 2030 and if all goes wrong reach 1300ppm by 2100.
The CO2 emissions is mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels which in turn produce energy. We all probably recollect the line ‘Burning fossil fuels will exhaust our resources’ but, have we considered what the emissions would be if we exhaust them?
We have to use less than 50% of our available fossil resources to stand a chance of survival amidst the climate change.
Significance of this announcement?
The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ) have scheduled a meeting in Paris , December 2015 and attempt to bring together all big countries in making a commitment to cut emissions agree that 2°C is the maximum we can deviate and we have to stay below that. For US and China, being the top contributors making a commitment for the first time is remarkable. It would put pressure on other developing countries to follow suit and bring everyone on a level playing field. Climate scientists have nearly a years’ time to prepare a road map for all major countries considering US and China have already made a commitment . And hope COP21 in Paris will be a success.