As we enter the second week of the 2015 United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Paris, nearly 150 world leaders representing 195 countries have called for action on the issue of climate change. French president Francois Hollande told the delegates of the conference that “the stakes of an international meeting [have never] been higher” and the fate of the world depends on the Paris climate deal; Prince Charles of Britain told fellow delegates that climate change is the world’s greatest threat and leaders must act now; and the UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, said “never before has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few.” While this responsibility technically lies in the hands of 150 world leaders, many experts and think tanks have argued that China and the United States play a leading role and will be the keys to success for the summit and in mitigating climate change.
The two countries bring to the Paris summit a joint presidential statement, which was made in Beijing in November 2014. The statement emphasizes the presidents’ commitment to targets reducing their respective nations’ carbon emissions. Essentially, the United States brings to the table the Clean Power Plan, which is currently taking heat on the domestic front, and China brings the world’s soon-to-be largest cap and trade program, a pledge to have carbon emissions peak around 2030, and a $3.1 billion contribution to help developing countries fight climate change. Chinese President Xi Jinping stated at the summit that the Paris agreement should chart a course for green development, put effective control on greenhouse gases, and excite global efforts to cut emissions. He also stated that addressing climate change should not impair countries’ ability to develop.
However, these statements come at a time when President Xi’s domestic environment is in dire circumstances. On December 8, Beijing issued the city’s first ever red alert pertaining to smog levels. The red alert is the highest possible alert and results in the city effectively shutting down, meaning closed schools, halted outdoor construction, and cars with odd and even numbered license plates banned from driving on alternate days. The order will last from 7:00 a.m. local time Tuesday to 12:00 p.m. local time Thursday, when a cold front is expected to push the smog away from the city. The poisonous smog over Beijing covers an area of North China the size of Spain; it’s caused by burning coal for industry and heating and dust from construction and exacerbated by low wind and high humidity. Air pollution monitors in the capital showed that areas of Beijing had more than 256 micrograms per cubic meter of poisonous particles, a number much higher than the World Health Organization’s unsafe level of 25 or more.
Smog in Beijing, December 1st and December 2nd
Perhaps President Xi’s attendance at the Paris Climate Change summit comes at a time when the country needs it most. Though a strong global agreement on climate change from the Paris summit, as well as President Xi’s efforts to mitigate greenhouse gases and develop more sustainability, will not immediately solve China’s air pollution issues, these efforts are a step in the right direction. China’s goals and participation in the Paris summit could play a major role in not only solving the country’s air pollution issues in the long term, but also in helping to mitigate global climate change.
Tags: Carbon Emissions, Climate Change, Policy & Regulation, Utility Transformations
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