U.S.-China Agreement on Climate Change Is Big First Step

What would it mean for greenhouse gas emissions, if the whole world used air conditioning the way we do in the United States? Consider that, according to one study, India would have 15 times the demand that we do. For China, the multiplier would be five.

The answer, of course, depends on how efficient the cooling equipment is, and how the electricity that powers it is produced. I’m not suggesting that more air conditioning for India would be a bad thing. But if the electricity comes from coal-fired plants, and the equipment isn’t very efficient, it’s easy to see that the result would be an upswing in greenhouse gas emissions.

I thought about that study when I read that the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the United States and China, agreed to limit those emissions. It was a year-end bonus, to my way of thinking. China promised to halt the growth of emissions in 2030, while the United States agreed to trim emissions at least 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. The hope is that China’s commitment will get other nations to do more to tackle climate change.

The U.S.-China agreement is a big step but it’s also just a first step, setting targets a decade or more in the future. And those targets may not be stringent enough to help stave off the worst effects of climate change.

Unfortunately, time is not on our side. The longer we delay, the harder and more costly it will be to limit the most harmful effects of climate change.

Climate change has been a “third rail” of U.S. politics, at least at the Congressional level. News reports suggest President Obama is banking on growing public support for steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions. I for one hope he’s right. Cutting emissions is likely to take political willpower, which will depend on broad support from voters.

Fortunately, facility managers don’t have to worry about politics. Energy efficiency measures are available for all budgets, and they will help the bottom line and the facility manager’s standing in the organization as well as the environment.