While on a visit to Bejing, U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday announced with his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping a new bilateral agreement on hard reduction targets for climate change pollution in those two countries.
The United States agrees to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2025 and China commits to levelling off its carbon emissions by 2030.
When China or the United States act on any major global political issue, other countries take notice. And when China and the U.S. work in partnership on a major global issue, other countries definitely take notice. Looking at early analysis of what these announced targets represent in terms of the impact on our climate, it is clear they don't go far enough. However, it is a grand gesture by two powerhouse countries and that will have big ripple effects.
This all leaves Canada and its Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a very awkward position.
Harper has said many things about climate change over the years, the vast majority of them wavering somewhere between complete denial and total delay. One thing Harper has been very clear on when it comes to the issue of climate change, is that he would not commit Canada to taking the issue seriously if the United States and China did not take the first step.
The U.S.-China joint announcement clearly puts the ball in the court of other major polluting countries like Canada, whose per capita carbon emissions are some of the highest in the world.
At international climate talks last year, I witnessed firsthand just how little Canada is doing to help draft a new global agreement on carbon emission reductions. Canada has moved from being a pariah engaged in delay tactics to being a country happily sitting on the sidelines twiddling its thumbs, while other nations that are already feeling the impacts of climate change firsthand (such as the Philippines) desperately try to convince major polluters to do what is right.
Next year will be an important year for global climate change talks, with a major world leader's summit happening December 2015 in Paris. The timing of the China-U.S. climate pact is strategic, with few negotiation rounds left before the big show in Paris. If it wasn't clear already, the U.S.-China agreement has now clearly set the expectation that leaders from all the other major industrial nations will be expected to show up at that meeting with hard commitments.
The U.S.-China commitment might not be as bold as it could be, but it leaves little room for countries like Canada and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to make any more excuses for inaction.