Horowitz: Pope Francis and China - A Great Week for the Climate

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


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Rob Horowitz

The one-two punch of Pope Francis making the need for action on climate change one of the central points in his widely covered speech to a Joint Meeting of Congress and President Xi Jinping announcing that China will implement a national cap and trade program by 2017, made last week one truly great week for the climate.

In gently calling on Congress to protect the earth, what he aptly refers to as “our common home,” The Pope struck a hopeful note: “This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all (ibid., 14)…. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.”

Following up on the 184 page encyclical devoted to climate change he issued earlier this year and referenced in his speech to Congress, Pope Francis once again made expert use of the world’s most powerful bully pulpit, merging spirituality and science in a strong and hard to ignore call for action.

President Xi Jinping’s announcement that China, which produces twice as much greenhouse gases as the United States, will implement a nationwide cap-and-trade program to limit carbon emissions in 2017 was a historic step forward. This announcement, made during last week’s State Visit, adds substantial substance to China’s commitment earlier this year to cap and begin reducing greenhouse gases by 2030.

It will provide further momentum for finalizing a robust new international climate change agreement at the end of this year in Paris.  As Frank Jotzo, director of the Center for Climate and Economic Policy at the Australian National University told the New York Times, “China starting its national emissions trading scheme will have a major signaling effect globally.”

China’s actions are of such major significance not only because they are the world’s largest carbon emitter; but also because up until recently developing nations, such as China and India, resisted making any commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that global warming is a problem created by the West, which industrialized earlier, and should primarily be solved by the United States and Europe.   This response made it more difficult to generate action on climate in the developed world, because critics pointed out accurately, that if the developing world did not join in reducing emissions, the problem could not be solved

China’s constructive new path, triggered in large measure by President Obama’s substantial steps to limit carbon emissions in the United States and his and Secretary of State Kerry’s persistent diplomacy on the issue, provides real grounds for optimism that we can take the actions needed to limit global temperature increases to a manageable level.  And Pope Francis expert use of his uniquely powerful voice to remind all the nations and people of the world of our obligation to each other, our children and future generations to take care of our ‘common home’ continues to be impactful.

This adds up to one boffo week for the climate.  

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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