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China, U.S. Pledge To Limit Greenhouse Gases

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China, U.S. Pledge To Limit Greenhouse Gases

Environment

China, U.S. Pledge To Limit Greenhouse Gases

China, U.S. Pledge To Limit Greenhouse Gases

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President Obama and China's Xi Jinping have concluded their summit in Beijing. Their joint announcement on climate is designed to set an example for other countries in combating climate change.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The world's two greatest carbon polluters, China and the U.S., have made a dramatic pledge to limit greenhouse gases. In Beijing, standing side-by-side, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement that is an unprecedented commitment by both nations. It was one of a number of agreements that came out of a summit there. NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley joined us from Beijing. Good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's start with this climate announcement, which was more aggressive, I mean, more ambitious than many people had expected going in.

HORSLEY: That's right. And it caps months of behind-the-scenes negotiations that began with a letter from President Obama to President Xi back in the spring. The Chinese responded favorably to that. And so after some very intense talks in the run-up to this summit, President Obama says by 2025, the U.S. is prepared to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.

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BARACK OBAMA: This is an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable goal. It will double the pace at which we're reducing carbon pollution in the United States. It puts us on a path to achieving the deep emissions reductions by advanced economies that the scientific community says is necessary to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

HORSLEY: And, meanwhile, China is promising for the first time ever to halt the growth in its carbon pollution by 2030 if not sooner.

MONTAGNE: And, Scott, this announcement comes well ahead of an international climate summit in Paris next year, where other countries are expected to produce their own climate plans. So what's happening here - the U.S. and China are acting ahead of that in order to, maybe, set some goals?

HORSLEY: That's right. Well, between them, China and the U.S. account for more than a third of all the greenhouse gas production on the planet. So President Obama says they have a special responsibility to lead the way.

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OBAMA: By making this announcement today, together, we hope to encourage all major economies to be ambitious, all countries, developing and developed, to work across some of the old divides so we can conclude a strong global climate agreement next year.

HORSLEY: You can say they're trying to set an example. Another way to look at it is they're trying to take away an excuse so other countries can't point to foot-dragging by the U.S. and China as a reason not to confront their own carbon emissions.

MONTAGNE: Well, what will it take to meet these targets?

HORSLEY: In China, it's going to require a huge investment in clean energy. By 2030, China wants to be getting 20 percent of its power from nonpolluting sources. And when you look at the growth of energy consumption in this country, that's a lot of windmills and solar panels. In the U.S., we're really just talking about accelerating existing trends, and the White House thinks they can meet these targets without new legislation. That's important because after last week's midterm elections, we're not likely to see any new climate legislation coming out of Capitol Hill. In fact, White House aides note, the probable incoming chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, is one of the leading climate change deniers in Congress.

MONTAGNE: Scott, let's just take a moment to have you tell us about the one other milestone at the end of this week's summit; China's president actually took a question from reporters.

HORSLEY: That's right. In the United States, you know, when the president meets with a foreign leader, typically - not always, but typically - they'll address reporters and take questions. In China, not so much. I remember when Obama was here five years ago, we got a couple of can statements and no questions. So the White House Press Corps and the White House itself had been pressing hard for a chance to question President Xi, and he did take a couple questions, one from a Chinese reporter, one from an American reporter. The American asked, among other things, about press freedom in China. Now, Xi's answer to the Chinese reporter, I have to say, appeared to have been scripted in advance. But still, it was a modest opening for press access today. Xi was also pressed by President Obama during their meeting on the treatment of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong. His answer to that was, well, those protests are illegal, and, anyway, it's an internal matter for China, so butt out.

MONTAGNE: NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley in Beijing. He's traveling with the president. Thanks very much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Renee.

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