During the meeting of national leaders prior to and during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing, President Obama and President Xi Jinping announced a deal between the United States and China to cut greenhouse gas emissions by their respective countries. Under the pledge, the United States will cut emissions by 26-28% from the 2005 levels and China (while not specifying an amount) will curb the growth of its emissions, establishing a peak in 2030.
It is easy to make public pledges and deals, but harder to follow through with commitment to the deal and actions that will substantially lessen human impact on the environment. Everyone wants to appear that they are the “good guy” who will preserve the common good (the Earth/climate/ozone), but there are numerous costs to taking action. Political will, especially in the United States, is fragmented on moving towards more renewable energy and lower emissions. Creating more stringent standards makes energy more expensive, require bureaucratic rules and regulations, and potentially cost jobs. There is a great disadvantage to the first mover, at least in the short run. If the U.S. moves to very strict environmental standards, the input costs of energy resources and all goods and services that have energy inputs will rise. In turn, this causes U.S. goods and services to be more expensive than those in countries that do not comply with strict standards, implement them more slowly, or have weaker standards (such China). U.S. exports become more expensive and less desirable on the international market and U.S. domestic consumers import more non-compliant country goods (partially undermining the initial push to stricter standards).
If both China and the U.S. can adhere to their pledges of emission reductions, the two biggest polluters in the world will have made a notable dent in greenhouse gas growth. If they cannot, then the leaders of each country have done nothing but further an empty public conversation on real action to deal with climate change. Both compliance and the methods of compliance will be the next interesting steps in the process.