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Q&A: United States And China Announce New Greenhouse Gas Goals

President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping just announced new goals to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The deal has been called “historic.” But critics say it will hurt the U.S. economy.

Ron Mitchell is a professor of political science and environmental studies at the University of Oregon. He spoke about the deal today on OPB’s “Think Out Loud.”

Host Dave Miller asked him what President Obama said the U.S. would do over the next two decades.   

Mitchell: He said we’d make a 26-28 percent reduction in our carbon emissions relative to a 2005 baseline so he’d reduce from 2005 by 26-28 percent by 2025. 

Miller: How does that compare to what he, or the U.S., has already pledged to the international community?  

Mitchell: In a certain sense we can go back to the commitment he made about 4-5 years ago, and then to the U.S. commitment under the Kyoto protocol in 1997, and it’s a little more aggressive than those were. So that’s a big positive that both the earlier commitments were equivalent. And this, at least if I calculated my numbers correctly this morning, suggests a little more aggressive reductions than we had planned previously. So that’s a positive thing.  

Miller: The way you’re describing it doesn’t make it seem that we’re biting off a lot more in terms of a carbon reduction.  

Mitchell: You’re going back to a baseline, from 2005, we’re a significant fraction above that already, we’re already higher. So a 25 percent cut of anything is a pretty large cut. So it will require some effort on our part.  

Miller: That’s the U.S. side. What about China? What are they pledging to do?  

Mitchell: They’re making a pledge that might not seem like much. They’re saying they’re going try to peak their emissions by 2030. You say well wait, that means they’re going to continue to grow for another 15 years, on the other hand if you look at their current growth rates, they’re growing quite dramatically, about 10 percent a year. So trying to slow that train especially in an economy that’s growing at 7-8 percent a year is going to be a challenge for them. But I think in both cases they’re admitting the climate change is a problem that we have to address and making a commitment into the future to try and get there. So I think those are positive.  

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who’s likely to become the next Senate Majority Leader, criticized the deal today. He says it doesn’t ask enough of China, but would create “havoc” in his and other states.

Miller also asked Professor Mitchell how significant the deal really is, and whether it would make a difference to climate change.   You can hear the full discussion tonight at 8, or online any time at