Two months before world leaders gather to hammer out a global climate agreement in Paris, four of the top figures shaping the outcome are in the U.S. this week, each with his own particular viewpoints on climate change and what to do about it.
Pope Francis and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi want richer countries that have long released carbon dioxide to fund green-energy transitions and adverse-climate preparedness in poorer countries. Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the leaders of the two biggest carbon economies, are taking politically risky steps to cut emissions and bring other countries along with them toward an accord expected in December. Below are some facts about each leader’s plans and prospects.
SIZE OF FLOCK: 1.2 billion Roman Catholics
CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS: Unclear. The Vatican sought to become carbon neutral under Benedict XVI.
GREATEST CLIMATE HIT: In his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis declared that global warming is based on “very solid scientific consensus” and that there is an “urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced.”
FIERCEST OPPONENTS: Some politicians in wealthy countries don’t like the idea that they bear the responsibility for financing a green-energy shift and climate-related adaptation in poorer countries. Economists have criticized Pope Francis for his mistrust of the role of markets in helping reduce carbon emissions. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic, said the church is not “credible” when involved in politics or “controversial scientific theories.”
CONTRIBUTION TO PARIS CLIMATE TALKS: Climate negotiators see the pope as a highly popular advocate and ambassador-at-large for efforts to address climate change, especially in his home region, Latin America, where many countries haven’t fully embraced the United Nations-sponsored talks.
STAYING POWER: Most popes don’t retire.
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SIZE OF FLOCK: 1.4 billion
CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS: 10.3 billion metric tons (2013)
GREATEST CLIMATE HIT: In November, Messrs. Xi and Obama jointly released plans to curb emissions, and China agreed to achieve peak carbon emissions by 2030 at the latest and boost renewable energy to 20% of the total. Beijing, choked with air pollution, later said it would cut the relative amount of carbon dioxide it emits compared with the size of its economy by 60 to 65 percent between 2005 and 2030. China is also working on a program to cap emissions and put a price on carbon.
FIERCEST OPPONENTS: China’s massive coal-fired industrial complex and the local officials who benefit from it aren’t eager to see a major energy shift. Republicans in the U.S. also criticize China for being allowed to increase emissions until 2030 while other countries have to swallow expensive cuts.
CONTRIBUTION TO PARIS CLIMATE TALKS: In addition to its 2030 targets, China’s example of active participation in the Paris climate talks is expected to bring along some other major emerging markets that have been dragging their feet. Also, China’s massive investment in renewable energy may make it more affordable elsewhere.
STAYING POWER: Unclear. Mr. Xi, more than halfway through a five-year term, is eligible to serve another. China is at an economic crossroads that could affect leadership and its energy mix.
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SIZE OF FLOCK: 322 million
CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS: 5.3 billion tons
GREATEST CLIMATE HIT: The administration’s Clean Power Plan, finalized in August, requires a 32% cut in power-plant carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, compared with 2005.
FIERCEST OPPONENTS: Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans are challenging the power-plant rules in court and seeking to undermine Mr. Obama’s authority to enter into an international agreement in Paris without congressional consent.
CONTRIBUTION TO PARIS CLIMATE TALKS: The Obama administration was instrumental in getting China involved in the accord, releasing its emissions-cuts plan jointly with Beijing and pledging this week to approach thorny issues in the Paris talks with a united front. The U.S. has pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels, and is working with smaller countries on their plans.
STAYING POWER: Mr. Obama is out in a little over a year, and a Republican president could roll back climate policy, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules for power plants.
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SIZE OF FLOCK: 1.3 billion
CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS: 2.1 billion tons
GREATEST CLIMATE HIT: As the leader of India’s Gujarat state, Mr. Modi backed a massive solar project, the biggest in Asia.
FIERCEST OPPONENTS: Finance is the biggest obstacle to a green revolution in India, which is increasing inexpensive electricity generation from coal to help lift hundreds of millions into the middle class. Energy is difficult to afford for most Indians, and politicians don’t want to force a transition to renewable sources when fossil fuels are cheap.
CONTRIBUTION TO PARIS CLIMATE TALKS: Environmentalists around the world are eagerly waiting for India’s contribution to the Paris talks, expected in days. Most observers say India’s plan is unlikely to contain a reduction in greenhouse gases or a peak year for emissions, as China’s did. The Paris accord would likely allow countries to make deeper commitments in a few years.
STAYING POWER: Just over a year into his first term, Modi has a rare majority in Parliament and could stick around awhile.
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