Is China the real target for Obama's sweeping new carbon rules?

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Marco Werman: This plan to cut carbon emissions is intended for the US, but it's also targeted at a wider international audience. And since China is now the world's biggest carbon polluter, they'll be paying close attention to Obama's challenge. Ailun Yang is a climate and energy expert at the World Resources Institute in Washington. How do you think, first of all, Beijing is going to react to Obama's announcement today, Ailun? Ailun Yang: I think today the Chinese will be gathering their best analysts to study very closely the technical details of the new roles, to understand the level of ambitions that these new roles actually mean. But I think in any case the political significance of today's new announcement is just huge. It's great news for the global efforts to tackle climate change and, of course, it will put a lot of new pressure and encouragement on the Chinese part to be more aggressive and proactive in the international climate talks. Werman: For years China and the US have been locked in a difficult dance over who should take the first big steps to cut emissions. What would you say that's all about? Yang: I want to say that that dance between the two countries is not really just about hiding behind each other and who is willing to take the first step. It's also about international diplomacy, but also about competitiveness. And I think that part of it is also the countries do understand that tackling climate change brings a lot of long-term benefits, and so it's also watching each other and trying to see whether I'm lagging behind on on some of these actions and might be missed out on this new global game to get new competitiveness from the new energy or from the new climate economy. Werman: Right. I mean there are obvious environmental benefits. People who are concerned about the economy might notice that could have an effect economically as well. But do you think it might actually push US-China cooperation on carbon pollution forward? Yang: I think that one very important foundation for US-China collaboration is definitely bigger ambition. So when the two countries do come out with more ambitious plans for how to tackle climate change then there will be a stronger drive for the two countries to work together. And I think it's actually starting a very positive cycle because when countries actually work together and be able to produce more evidence about the benefits of tackling climate change, then countries become even more confident of doing so. So I think, especially being the world's two largest economies, that really starts the world on a very positive track. Werman: Most of this new climate policy is aimed at US coal-fired power plants and we know that coal is a huge issue in China where consumption of coal just seems to continue going through the roof. What is China going to do about coal in the long run? Yang: First of all, we've notice a very significant decline in the growth of China's coal consumption. It's still growing, but it's growing much more slowly than before. And also if you look at the newly-added capacities, last year was the first year that non-coal, like renewable energy, solar, wind, hydro, is more than coal. So if we look at the trend, we're seeing that coal is slowing down. But, of course, China is still a country to consumes more than half of the world's coal and China is still very much troubled by its heavy reliance on coal and it's still very important for the country to consider how to move away from coal. And I think here maybe the very severe air pollution is really getting a lot of the public anger and frustration and putting a lot of pressure on the Chinese government to tackle this problem, mainly China's coal consumption. Werman: What would you suggest we look for in China going forward to determine whether China is following the American first step on cutting carbon emissions? What are you going to be looking for? Yang: I think that there's a lot of talk around, China is right now drafting its five-year plan which covers 2016 to 2020. Many people expect there will be some national coal consumption control measures in the new five-year plan, and if that's the case then, again, that will be very positive news for the global climate efforts. Werman: Ailun Yang, climate and energy expert at the World Resources Institute in Washington. Thanks very much for your time. Yang: A pleasure.