When President Obama went to Beijing last November and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, both leaders were aware of the litany of contentious issues that divided the United States and China. But a curious thing happened. Despite a host of intractable disagreements — maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas, cyber-hacking, human rights abuses, trade protectionism — the two countries found a new area of accord. They agreed to voluntarily set joint targets for carbon emissions reductions to peak by 2030.
Then, even as U.S.-China relations continued to unravel, the two leaders met again in Washington last month. Once again climate change was the issue that brought them together to “reaffirm their shared conviction that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity and that their two countries have a critical role to play in addressing it.” Both leaders promised “to move ahead decisively to implement domestic climate policies, to strengthen bilateral coordination and cooperation, and to promote sustainable development and the transition to green, low-carbon, and climate-resilient economies.”
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President Obama’s determination to reduce US power plant emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 sends a message to world leaders that the UN climate talks in Paris could – just – succeed.