How to Make Climate Pledges Stick
Following US President-elect Joe Biden's victory and recent carbon-neutrality pledges from China, Japan, the European Union, and others, now is the time to meet words with action. That means moving beyond finger-pointing and working toward a uniform carbon tariff and tax regime to increase the costs of emissions globally.
NEW YORK – China’s pledge in September to pursue carbon neutrality by 2060 was followed by a similar pledge from Japan a month later. With these commitments being made at a time when the US has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, it is easy to interpret them as part of the ongoing geopolitical competition for global leadership. But managing climate change is not a zero-sum game. Here, national competition to strengthen ambitions and policies benefits everyone.
To bridge the gap between pledges and tangible results, we will need to lock in these recent commitments and create incentives for other countries to increase their own climate targets. While COVID-19 lockdowns have reduced global carbon dioxide emissions this year, intensive pre-pandemic emissions are likely to return with a vengeance in 2021.
How can we start truly reducing emissions in a timely, efficient, and fair manner? Over the next ten years, Americans need to reduce their per capita carbon consumption from about 200% to about 80% above the current Chinese level (from about 18 metric tons of carbon per person per year to ten). Similarly, Germany needs to cut its per capita carbon consumption from about 80% above the current Chinese level to below the current Chinese level (from about ten to six metric tons per person per year). And the Chinese need to cap their per capita emissions before the end of the decade, while also moving toward carbon neutrality.