Historic agreement between US and China promises to not make history

 REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool

REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool

In what has been described as “a unique, cooperative effort between China and the United States,” by American Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States and China have agreed to work together on climate change.  The historic agreement, which was announced in a joint statement issued at the end of Kerry’s tour of China, promises that the two nations will “collaborate through enhanced policy dialogue, including the sharing of information regarding their respective post-2020 plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

What makes these noncommittal and inspiring words so significant, is that China and the United States are not only the two dirtiest carbon-spewing nations in the world, they also habitually portray the other as the chief obstacle to international action on global warming.  China has long argued that it is the legacy of western industrialization that is most responsible for climate change, and it should be able to continue to burn as much fossil fuel as it can to become as rich as it desires because the US and others did so already.  In the meantime, it should be up to the rest of the world to cut down on their carbon emissions, preferably by purchasing solar panels and windmills made in China.

The Americans, for their part, have chosen to ignore the fact that allowing developing nations more leeway to pollute while crafting an international agreement on reducing those same pollutants actually succeeded in lowering CFC emissions with the Montreal Protocol of 1987.  They insist that China must be subject to the same limitations on greenhouse gases as the US, if they are to agree to anything.  The logic being, apparently, that global warming is too serious an issue for the world to wait for China to catch up, but not too serious an issue that it can’t wait for two rival nations with incompatible economic systems and ideologies to come to an agreement.

Of course, things will be different now that China and the US have opened a dialogue.  With a little bit of luck, their agreement to start talking about maybe eventually doing something about this global warming thing will lead to a further agreement to definitely start doing something soon probably.

One day, after a future Republican administration, motivated by the fact that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by aborition-addict hippy chicks and socialist jihadi atheists, scraps every environmental policy, every empty gesture, token agreement, and half-measure made under Obama; and after the Chinese government, fully aware of the extent to which the West is simultaneously terrified of its success and nervous that its economy will falter, decides to abandon any agreement which it finds inconvenient just because it can; after some, but perhaps not all, of the worst predictions of climate scientists have befallen us; we can look back at this day as an unforgettable, historic moment when nothing really happened.

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