A single nation acting alone will make no difference

almost 4 years ago

Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a sweeping move toward his country limiting greenhouse gas emissions from such carbon intense sources as electric power, steel, cement and paper manufacturing. According to the plan, by 2017 China will implement a nationwide emissions trading program with the ultimate goal of stopping the growth of Chinese emissions by 2030.

It's a significant climate change move by the world's largest polluter. After all, "America is not a planet," noted presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio at the last Republican debate, and he is right. Global climate change impacts us all and to address it requires international cooperation, action and verification. China's news should thus be a welcome shift, but Rubio's campaign spokesperson quickly responded, "Marco is opposed to cap-and-trade and other forms of a national energy tax."

On numerous occasions, Carly Fiorina has explained, "a single nation acting alone can make no difference at all" in the effort to curb climate change, and she's right too. Luckily, the U.S. doesn't have to act alone. China's climate commitments should ease the leadership burden for the next occupant of the White House. However, the announcement was not applauded by frontrunner Donald Trump, who asserted that, "any deal that our current representatives make with China will allow China to laugh all the way to the bank." Just the day before, he had claimed in a CNN interview that, "China's doing nothing." Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did not embrace China's announcement any more than his competitors did. A spokesperson for his campaign mostly dodged the issue.

Although the U.S. – the world's largest polluter until 2007– ultimately rejected the Kyoto Protocol, Congressional lawmakers have long pointed to China's inaction as the primary reason the U.S. should take a do nothing climate approach. With China's emissions reduction plans in place and fresh rumors afloat that India is looking to adopt its own program to reduce carbon intensity, waiting for the rest of the world to act is no longer a valid reason to stall U.S. climate progress.

For candidates seeking the White House, the time has come to move off the sound bite and on to detailed ideas. If we are not "by ourselves… going to fix the climate" as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cautioned, what is the outreach strategy to ensure China and other major polluting nations meet their promises? Do the candidates envision use of technology banks? Do they support intellectual property reform, particularly in the context of technology transfer to partner countries? For those candidates who promote "innovation over regulation," let's see the specific plans to spark ingenuity, but also to deploy solutions. How will they, as president, inspire a culture of climate action?

The next Republican debate will be held on October 28, potentially with a smaller field of candidates taking the stage. Voters will be listening not for the gotcha moment, but for policy solutions that will ensure America is not allowing other major polluting nations to tackle the climate problem alone.