Obama, Xi Jinping agree to more "carbon limiting" action

In case you were wondering what the President was up to in China aside from chewing nicotine gum, he was busy signing us up for another round of regulations on carbon emissions. These discussions were taking place with the leader of China. If the symbolism of this is lost on you, we’ll clarify that in a moment.

The United States and China announced a largely symbolic plan on Wednesday to implement new limits on carbon emissions, the highlight of a summit between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in which both leaders played down suggestions of differences and rivalry.

U.S. officials said the commitments by the world’s two biggest carbon polluters came after months of backroom negotiations and would set the tone for a global climate control pact, but experts said the limits did not break significant new ground.

It’s nice to hear that it was largely symbolic, since the President doesn’t actually have the authority to agree to anything binding on his own. The problem is, Obama probably means it, while China is almost certainly just yanking the world’s collective chain yet again with a bit of lip service as they seek better trade arrangements. Reuters also goes out of their way to describe China and the United States as the world’s two biggest carbon polluters. You might be able to make that argument, depending upon how you stretch your definitions, but there is no real comparison here. China is so vastly far ahead of anyone else in pollution that it makes the entire conversation laughable.

It’s first worth noting that Barack Obama is already facing a huge backlash in Congress over the strangling regulations which the energy industry already faces. Trying to craft a way to make another huge emissions cut in the short term (they’re talking as much as 26%) would essentially see us moving back into caves. And the idea that our feet should be held to the figurative fire when we’re talking about China should render any discussion of this “agreement” entirely moot.

Analysts say that beneath the apparent contradiction lies a consensus that barring any significant changes in policy, China’s emissions will rise until around 2030 – when the country’s urbanisation peaks, and its population growth slows – and then begins to fall. Proposed policy changes could speed up the process.

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, responsible for about a quarter of all emissions. The country accounted for over 70% of the world’s energy consumption growth in 2011, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Its emissions have risen accordingly.

If China wants to cut a deal on this subject, they need to at least catch up to us first. Welcome to Beijing.

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