By Bill McKibben, originally posted at Huffington Post, and reposted here from 350.org.
1) It is historic. John Kerry was right to use the phrase in his New York Times oped announcing the deal: for the first time a developing nation has agreed to eventually limit its emissions, which has become a necessity for advancing international climate negotiations.
2) It isn’t binding in any way. In effect President Obama is writing an IOU to be cashed by future presidents and Congresses (and Xi is doing the same for future Politburos). If they take the actions to meet the targets, then it’s meaningful, but for now it’s a paper promise. And since physics is uninterested in spin, all the hard work lies ahead.
3) It is proof, if any more was needed, that renewable energy is ready to go. The Chinese say they’ll be using clean sources to get 20 percent of their energy by 2030 — which is not just possible, it should be easy. Which they know because they’ve revolutionized the production of solar energy, driving down the cost of panels by 90 percent or more in the last decade.
4) It is not remotely enough to keep us out of climate trouble. We’ve increased the temperature less than a degree and that’s been enough to melt enormous quantities of ice, not to mention set the weather on berserk. So this plan to let the increase more than double is folly — though it is good to see that the two sides have at least agreed not to undermine that two degrees target, the one tiny achievement of the Copenhagen conference fiasco.
5) It is a good way to put pressure on other nations. I’ve just come back from India, which has worked hard to avoid any targets of any sort. But the lesson from this pact is, actual world leaders at least need to demonstrate they’re talking about climate; it makes the lead-up to the global negotiations in Paris next year more interesting.