THE BLOG
06/05/2014 04:54 pm ET | Updated Aug 05, 2014

Will China Follow America's Lead ?

A senior advisor to the Chinese government has advised the country to impose an absolute cap on its emissions by 2016. Of course, whether Beijing will heed this suggestion remains to be seen.

Any moves by the world's largest polluter will be closely scrutinized by Washington.

The comments came one day after Barack Obama took the largest step of any U.S. president to date and delivered a historic action plan to rein in emissions from America's vast fleet of 1,600 power stations.

Under the new regulations, emissions would fall by 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that's the equivalent of removing two-thirds of all vehicles off the road in the US.

News from both countries came four months after Beijing and Washington vowed to lead the charge against global warming.

Although the U.S.-China relationship is the most promising development in nearly twenty years of climate talks, it remains to be seen whether Beijing will makes it cuts binding. Even though it is about to eclipse America to become the world's largest economy, millions of its people still on less than $400 a year.

"If China would indeed set an absolute national cap on greenhouse gas emissions, this would mean a boost for finding global solutions to tackle the climate challenge. It is most remarkable that now both China and the US seem to be ready to show renewed leadership," said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Obama's latest moves in America were broadly welcomed by the environmental sector. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore praised the new rules as "the most important step taken to combat the climate crisis in our country's history."

Relying on a section of the Clean Air Act, the president will push through the rules by exerting his executive authority. The move comes four years after Congress torpedoed his first efforts at climate legislation.

Although the regulations have already been endorsed by the Supreme Court, they will face a spate of court challenges, opening the door to what Peter Altman from the Natural Resources Defense Council describes as "the Super Bowl of climate politics."

The clean coal coalition already has accused the president of waging a "war against coal." Under the new rules, coal use would fall by around a quarter. And, although that may sound like a lot, it will still make up 30 percent of America's energy mix by 2030: Currently it accounts for 37 percent.

The regulations have also been demonized as job killers, and a harbinger for higher energy prices.

"Well, they're wrong," countered EPA head Gina McCarthy.

After Obama introduced new rules for car emissions, it inspired a wave of innovation that created a new generation of hybrid and electric cars. This in turn produced more jobs whilst offering greater value for the U.S. consumer.

According to the EPA, there will be over 100,000 new jobs both in power generation and in the energy efficiency sector by 2030.

Under the rules, each U.S. state is given a different target, and they are free to tailor which method of cleaner energy they wish to deploy in order to meet their quotas.

Obama's latest move comes three months after the United Nations warned that the devastating effects of climate change are much worse than originally anticipated: "Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched," said Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the group's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That brutal assessment came six months after the Nobel Peace prize winning body warned that our planet is warming much faster than expected: temperatures may now breach the so called safe limit of two degrees of warming within the next few decades.

World leaders have vowed to limit the warming of our planet to two degrees celsius. And, throwing down the gauntlet to leaders across the globe, the U.S. has finally set the stage for other governments to follow suit.

Writing in the Financial Times earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry called on other nations to step up to the plate.

"For the world to overcome the enormous threat climate change poses, we need every country to do everything within its power to pursue cleaner and healthier energy sources. We need to pursue the UN climate negotiations with vigour and determination toward an ambitious global agreement in Paris next year."

Looking ahead, Obama will have quite a fight on his hands: he will have to defend his new regulations from a largely hostile Republican Party, and the vast fossil fuel lobby.

"Conservatives break out in hives once you mention carbon and have an anaphylactic reaction once you mention tax," said Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman forced out of Congress partly because of his support for climate action.

Obama's new rules come five months before Americans head to the polls for the mid term elections. The outcome could have a radical impact on the balance of power in Washington if the conservatives regain control of the Senate. In his own words:

"As president, and as a parent, i refuse to condemn our children to a future that is beyond fixing. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won't happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But, a low carbon clean economy can be engine of growth for decades to come. America will build that engine. America will build the future. A future where we can look our kids in the eye and tell them that we did our part to leave them a safer and more stable world."