A Joint Statement for Climate Change Progress

By Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO on April 13, 2016
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A “pillar” of the relationship between superpowers

On March 31, the U.S. and China issued a joint statement that will finally get us on the right track to address global warming. The statement indicates that “The United States and China will sign the Paris Agreement on April 22nd and take their respective domestic steps to join the [Paris Climate] Agreement as early as possible this year.” A total of 130 countries will sign the Paris agreement on that date, which is in itself a record, with the highest number of countries ever signing an international treaty.

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After years of hesitation, climate change has finally become a central issue for the world’s largest economies, and the rest of the world has responded. The two top world economic powers—and CO2 contributors—don’t dance around the climate change issue anymore. Their joint statement opens with the bold assertion, “Climate change has become a pillar of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship.”

“A pillar” that was quite hard to build

Until now, any agreement on climate change between the superpowers seemed to be a zero-sum game. Take the mixed results of the Kyoto Protocol for instance. For many years, the point of contention to agree on curbing carbon emissions was the huge differential in the development stages between developed and developing economies. In fact, the United States originally opted out of Kyoto because of the exemptions granted to China, India, and developing countries. For the 12 years that the protocol was in place, the world’s largest polluters—U.S., China, and India—were practically free to keep doing business as usual.

The arguments that the U.S. and China made for not following the Kyoto agreement back in 1999 were opposite sides of the same coin. While the U.S. claimed that Kyoto restrictions would cost jobs and damage their economy, China argued that to agree to curb carbon emissions would slow its economic growth and cause them to fall behind their goal of becoming a superpower. They reasoned, and many economists agreed, that developed economies got there in part by using energy with practically no restrictions. Over the 12 years that this agreement was in effect (from 1999 to 2011), both the U.S. and China actually increased their carbon emissions, while Europe and Russia—who signed the agreement with no exemptions—actually reduced their emissions and grew at the same time.

“Resilient” economies

We seem to be in a completely different economic and political climate today (pun intended). In their March 31 joint statement, President Obama and President Xi Jinping stressed the “need for a swift transition to low-carbon, climate-resilient economies.” Their past “economic impact” positions are completely gone from this statement. The two presidents further stated that their countries will work together “to accelerate clean energy innovation and deployment.” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon underscored the significance of the milestone yesterday when he indicated that the historic agreement is “Only the beginning. We must urgently accelerate our efforts to tackle climate change.”

It is refreshing to see the world leaders agree that resilient economies and a responsible attitude to address climate change can indeed coexist. As I noted above, in one swift and brave statement this breakthrough position includes the notion of economic resilience and the necessary cooperation to achieve it.

David Waskow, Director of International Climate Initiative for World Resources Institute said, “The joint statement that the United States and China will sign and join the Paris Agreement as early as possible this year sends an extremely powerful signal.” He further notes that the crucial element of trust required for the goal of working together on energy innovation and deployment, “cements the role that climate plays in the U.S.-China relationship. It shows the confidence that both countries have in each other’s ability to deliver on their climate commitments.”

Economic resilience for all

The growth excuses of the past as expressed by the top economies, which are also the top contributors of CO2, was due more to the fear of moving away from the comfortable status quo of hydrocarbons. This is because coordinated innovation on a global scale—meaning cooperation to get there—was never included in these arguments.

The puzzle pieces necessary for the world to tackle climate change finally seem to be falling into place. For instance, the cooperation to fuel energy innovation is happily backed by the material means to make it happen. The Presidents’ joint statement exerts both countries will “commit to taking concrete steps to implement the commitments they made in their September 2015 Joint Statement to use public resources to finance and encourage the transition toward low-carbon technologies as a priority.”

The other important pieces come from the innovators themselves: entrepreneurs and companies all around the world who believe technology can provide the necessary solutions the world requires to tackle man-made climate change once and for all.

At Joi Scientific, we believe that energy innovation has the potential to actually accelerate growth and development for everyone. Our mission is to expedite the world’s transition to clean, abundant and affordable hydrogen energy. We are working hard to make our technology represent the first ‘no-compromise’ energy solution, economically and environmentally, to power all kinds of applications to fuel growth and innovation everywhere―in both developed and developing countries.

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Photography courtesy of Silicon Valley entrepreneur and photographer Christopher Michel.

 

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