China and US commit to strengthened domestic and international climate actions

Last November, as part of the joint announcement at the APEC meeting in Beijing, China and the US agreed to new targets to cut their carbon pollution. This year the two countries are focusing on implementation of these goals, formalizing more actions to domestically reduce emissions, increase low-carbon finance, move away from financing high-carbon activities, and help secure a strong international climate agreement in Paris. These announcements reinforce the fact China is acting at home to address its carbon and air pollution. They take away the leading argument of opponents to climate action - that we shouldn't act because China isn't - and build additional momentum for a strong international climate agreement this December.

The agreement has three parts: ideas to help advance the Paris agreement, additional domestic steps to curb both countries' pollution, and steps to mobilize new low-carbon finance and move away from financing climate destructive activities. Here is a bit more detail.

Helping the Paris agreement

The US-China leader's statement addresses some of the key architectural elements that are emerging in the new international climate agreement - how to strengthen emission reduction targets over time, track progress over time, and mobilize resources to assist developing countries in moving towards low-carbon and climate resilient economies.

Strengthen emissions reduction efforts over time? Under negotiation for the Paris agreement are several key elements to spur countries to strengthen their targets over time - to make sure that the current targets are the floor, not the ceiling. There is an emerging consensus that countries will commit regularly to new emission reduction targets every five years and that these targets would increase in stringency. And an additional way to guide this increased stringency is to include a long-term goal that provides a guidepost of where the world is heading. That is why countries have been debating having a more specific long-term target that signals where we are headed. The G7 countries agreed to a "decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century". And now China and the US have outlined a similar vision for both the long-term goal and the need to strengthen efforts over time: "The two sides recognize that Parties' mitigation efforts are crucial steps in a longer-range effort needed to transition to green and low-carbon economies and they should move in the direction of greater ambition over time...Both sides also emphasize the need for global low-carbon transformation during the course of this century."

Develop robust tools to track progress and hold countries accountable to their targets. The agreement in Copenhagen began to set out a monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) system to help get regular information on the progress that countries are making towards their targets and shine an international spotlight on their progress. The US-China statement covers this when it states: "Both sides support the inclusion in the Paris outcome of an enhanced transparency system to build mutual trust and confidence and promote effective implementation including through reporting and review of action and support in an appropriate manner."

Mobilizing finance to support low-carbon action and shifting away from "high-carbon" finance

A key part of the international system is focused around how to mobilize more financial support to aid developing countries in moving to low-carbon and climate resilient economies. At the same time, we need to ensure that we aren't "digging the hole" deeper by continuing to use scarce public resources for climate destructive activities. The U.S. and China leaders' statement addresses each aspect.

China agrees to provide $3.1 billion in climate finance support for developing countries. The U.S. reiterated its commitment to provide $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund and China announced that it will provide $3.1 billion (CNY 20 billion) in financing through a bilateral fund to support developing country efforts to address climate change. This is a massive infusion of finance by China for its South-South Climate Fund, which it announced at the Lima climate negotiations last December, and shows that China is willing to take a leadership role in providing financing for developing countries to address climate change. This puts additional pressure on developed countries to find ways to scale up climate financing to $100 billion per year by 2020, and to find ways to shift up to $89 trillion in the next 15 years to low-carbon, climate resilient investment.

Shifting finance away from "high-carbon" finance. Between 2007 and 2014, more than $73 billion of public finance was approved for overseas coal, according to a report by NRDC, Oil Change International, and WWF. In 2013 the U.S. agreed to end public financing of overseas coal projects, except in rare circumstances. And now China is signalling that it will take similar steps, as it agreed to: "strengthen green and low-carbon policies and regulations with a view to strictly controlling public investment flowing into projects with high pollution and carbon emissions both domestically and internationally". This will have very significant impacts given China's growing role in overseas infrastructure and project finance, through its leadership in the BRICS New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Silk Road Fund, each of which are multi-billion dollar institutions that can massively influence clean energy and clean infrastructure investment for better or worse. With this statement, China is signalling its intention to scale up its role as a key player in global low-carbon investment.

Implementing additional domestic actions

The joint statement reinforces that the two countries are serious about implementing the kinds of domestic reforms necessary to achieve their post-2020 climate targets. My colleagues Barbara Finamore and Alvin Lin provide more details on these actions, but here are the key aspects on China's actions:

  • China will formalize its plan to implement a national cap-and-trade by 2017 that will cover its major sources of emissions. The system will cover power generation, iron and steel, chemicals, cement, paper-making, and non-ferrous metals.
  • China will prioritize renewable energy when it decides its electricity dispatch. That means that wind, solar, and energy efficiency should no longer take a back seat to coal electricity in China.
  • US will finalize additional efficiency standards by the end of 2016.
  • Both countries will finalize new heavy-duty truck efficiency standards the be implemented in 2019.
  • China will take steps to develop low-carbon cities by increasing building efficiency and low-carbon transportation options.
  • Both countries commit to additional steps to control HFC emissions that are used in air conditioners, refrigerators, and other areas.


This agreement further reinforces the actions that the two countries are taking domestically. It eliminates the spurious argument that the US shouldn't act until China does. China is acting and these announcements further reinforce their commitment to strong domestic action to curb their carbon pollution.

About the Authors

Jake Schmidt

Director, International program

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