Leaders, at U.N. Climate Talks, Get Their Chance to Answer Youth Protests

Some analysts said they hoped Chinese leaders at the meeting would announce that their country’s emissions will peak earlier than they had pledged under the Paris Agreement, though others said that was unlikely. China today produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country, but it is on track to meet the relatively modest goals it set for itself under the Paris climate agreement.

“China is going to do a really good job of saying all the right things but we will have a very difficult time identifying the actions that are going to support that,” said Taiya Smith, director of the China program for the Climate Leadership Council, a conservative group that has called for carbon-tax policies.

In part, she and others said, that’s a reflection of the overwhelming focus in China on trade relations with the United States, fears about China’s own slowing economy and the failure of the United States, the world’s biggest emitter in historical terms, to act or push other nations to do more under the current administration.

“It’s very unlikely that China will move unless it has to,” Ms. Smith said, adding that, with the United States effectively out of the picture, “All they have to do is show up and they’re the world leader.”

Yet without more ambitious efforts by the United States, China and other big countries to eliminate greenhouse gases, the average temperature globally is on track to rise a dangerous 3 degrees Celsius or more from preindustrial times. According to the United Nations Environment Program, the world’s 20 largest economies, which account for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, “are not yet taking on transformative climate commitments at the necessary breadth and scale.”

Scientists and policymakers have said that even holding warming to a less-dangerous 1.5 degrees would entail a significant transformation of the global energy system, costing trillions of dollars.

But the cost of doing nothing is also staggeringly high.

Studies show that if emissions continue to rise at their current pace, the number of people needing humanitarian aid as a result of natural disasters could double by 2050. And a sweeping report from 13 United States federal agencies last year warned that failing to rein in warming could shave 10 percent off the country’s economy by century’s end.

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

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