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Obama Administration's Carbon Rules May Unlock Major Emissions Move by China

Just one day after the Obama administration and Environmental Protection Agency proposed ambitious new standards for carbon emissions from power plants, signals from China indicate that it may be preparing to follow suit with a similar game-changing announcement.  

He Jiankun, chairman of China's Advisory Committee on Climate Change, declared that China, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, is planning to adopt an absolute cap on its carbon emissions by 2016 as part of its next five-year plan. While Professor He is not an official government spokesperson, these top-level comments are significant in their own right.

This announcement falls in line with the recent revelation that the Chinese demand for coal is dropping and the overall Chinese coal boom is finally over. If China is able to successfully cap its emissions completely, it will represent a huge step forward for public health and the environment not only in China but all around the world.

It is important to note that we're hearing about this significant energy move by China after the first-ever carbon pollution standards in the U.S. were announced. By taking action to combat climate disruption, the U.S. has demonstrated the power of President Obama's leadership on climate in the world's largest economy -- and it clearly shows that when America takes the initiative, other major carbon emitters will act as well.

Historically, U.S. climate inaction has been a major impediment to global climate progress. Many other major emitters have been unwilling to take action until the U.S. takes the lead. They've even used U.S. inactivity as an excuse not to act on climate in their own countries. It's an excuse that's even been picked up by opponents of action on the climate crisis in the U.S., as they've argued that the U.S. shouldn't act if China and India do not. But with the release of the new carbon standards, pressure is increasing on these countries to announce bold actions of their own -- and it sounds like China is listening.

Now it's time for other major emitters like India to follow suit. The Obama administration's actions will better enable the U.S. to exert diplomatic leverage on countries that remain reluctant to do their part.  As we've known for many years, it will take a global effort to fully curb carbon emissions and protect our environment for the generations to come. This is just the first step.

-- Steve Herz, Senior International Climate Policy Advisor/Attorney