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Economy

US, China try to seize the initiative on climate action

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. and China have announced parallel efforts to curb output of greenhouse gases in an apparent bid to set the pace for negotiations on a new international accord against global warming.

     The European Union has already unveiled an emissions reduction target of its own. Japan, meanwhile, is still wrestling with how heavily to rely on nuclear energy.

     In an ambitious double proposal Wednesday, the U.S. said it aims to emit 26-28% less greenhouse gases in 2025 than in 2005. Annual reductions would jump from 1.2% in the 2005-20 period to 2.3% to 2.8% between 2020 and 2025. Looking further ahead, the White House set a goal of emitting roughly 80% less greenhouse gases by 2050.

     Plenty of discreet bargaining appears to have gone into the announcement by the two presidents at a summit in Beijing. Barack Obama sent Xi Jinping a letter as part of nine months of negotiations, The New York Times reported, citing Obama administration officials. Just last month, Obama dispatched senior aide John Podesta to Beijing for some late-stage dealmaking, according to the newspaper.

     In yoking China into the announcement, the Obama administration recognizes that reaching consensus on a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol will require a commitment by both countries, which together account for about 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. and China "have a special responsibility to lead" in this regard, Obama told the United Nations in September.

     Facing climate change skeptics at home, the president seems to have gone to the international community first to try and present them with a fait accompli. But Republicans, who hold the House of Representatives and won control of the Senate in this month's congressional midterm elections, are sure to put up a fight. They may thwart the White House's initiative as then-President George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol back in 2001.

     For China, Wednesday's announcement goes further than previous goals. The country said it will try to have its CO2 emissions peak around 2030 and to raise the share of nonfossil fuels in primary energy consumption to one-fifth by that year. This amounts to a timetable for reducing overall emissions, something China had never put forward. Until now, it has couched reduction goals in terms of gross domestic product, placing a clear priority on economic growth.

     China is eager to make its mark on climate change negotiations in Paris late next year. It will be vying for the green mantle with the U.S. and the EU, which has come together around a goal of cutting emissions 40% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.

     Japan appears woefully behind by comparison. Discussions on a reduction target began only last month. At a hearing Wednesday organized by two ministries, major industries presented voluntary targets for cuts by 2030 for the first time. The automotive industry, for instance, proposed emitting one-third less CO2 during production than in 1990.

     The government intends to fashion a national goal out of these piecemeal efforts but has not said when one will be ready. Officials increasingly see next June's Group of Seven summit as a deadline for anteing up.

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