Playing the China Card on Climate Change

Writing at Bloomberg View, Christopher Flavelle makes a simple but important point about the political import of the U.S.-China climate change agreement:

Republicans’ best argument against regulating carbon emissions from U.S. coal plants has always been this: If China won’t act, what use is it? Why risk harming the U.S. economy if the resulting drop in emissions isn’t enough to slow the worst effects of climate change?

The U.S.-China climate agreement announced last night turns that argument on its head. Under the deal, China will aim to begin reducing its carbon emissions by 2030, and the U.S. will reduce its emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels — “reductions achievable under existing law.”

Translation: The U.S. can only honor its commitment if proposed regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, which aim to reduce power-plant emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, are allowed to proceed.

So if Republicans in Congress block those rules, they risk tanking the agreement with China, which in turn gives China a reason to back out of the deal. The EPA rules that previously looked senseless in the absence of Chinese emissions reductions are now, arguably, the single most important thing the U.S. can do to ensure those reductions.

I dunno. I heard Mitch McConnell on the radio last night complaining that Obama had gotten too little out of the Chinese in exchange for the terrible things he plans to do to the Great Coal Idol Mitch worships (along with the Golden Calf of political money). And if there’s anything latterday Republicans hold in contempt almost as much as climate science it’s diplomatic agreements that bind the proud wolf of America’s freedom of action. I suspect the idea that Obama has sold out to the godless Chicomms is going to be a common theme going forward as Republicans gird up their loins to smite EPA. But Flavelle’s argument will indeed be compelling to climate action skeptics who are open to persuasion.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.