China making progress toward climate goals, international policy expert says

By Dave McGlinchey

China is making significant progress toward achieving emissions reductions targets because senior Chinese government leaders understand the urgency of the threat, an international climate policy expert said this month during a talk at WHRC.

Dr. Kelly Gallagher is the director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University. She was also the lead negotiator for the United States during behind-the-scenes climate discussions with China in 2014. That process led to a bilateral climate agreement between China and the United States, the two largest emitters in the world. It also paved the way for the Paris Agreement the following year.

WHRC President Dr. Phil Duffy said that Gallagher is an “unsung hero of international climate policy” and that she deserves as much credit as anyone for the success of the Paris Agreement.

During her appearance at WHRC, Gallagher said the recent U.S. retreat on climate action might have caused China to soften some of their more ambitious goals. According to Gallagher, however, Chinese leadership is extremely concerned about climate impacts – including rising sea levels, shifting precipitation patterns, and thawing permafrost. As a result, she said that China is moving forward aggressively to deploy renewable energy and reforestation projects.

“For anyone wondering if China will actually hit their climate targets, they are very much on their way,” Gallagher said.

That conflicts with the narrative often pushed by the Trump administration, claiming that U.S. involvement in the Paris Climate Agreement places an unfair burden on the United States while China is not required to take any action. When President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, he said, “China will be able to increase these emissions by [sic] a staggering number of years, 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years.”

Trump’s comments were apparently based on a misunderstanding of the Paris Agreement, in which commitments are framed in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030. To meet those targets, of course, requires actions by all nations well in advance of that date.

Gallagher also discussed the challenges of making progress on international climate policy without U.S. government leadership. She said, however, that the newly formed partnership between Tufts and WHRC would provide climate policy expertise and assistance. That partnership was launched in March to help nations develop policies that will meet their Paris Agreement emissions reductions targets.

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