Environmental Progress and Eased Tensions at the APEC Summit

Catherine Nardi

The influx of Republican candidates to Congress has America wondering which successes, if any, lie ahead during the remainder of President Obama’s final term in office.

However, as of November 9th, the President was concerned with other important issues. President Obama departed for China soon after the midterm elections to attend the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. On November 12th, the APEC summit concluded with what President Obama called a “historic agreement” [1] between the United States and China. The deal would include cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions “by nearly one-third from 2005 levels by 2025,” and by 2030, China would “peak it’s carbon emissions” and “increase the use of non-fossil fuels to 20%.” [2] As President Obama said, the agreement “is an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable goal.” [2] The agreement was the result of months of debate and planning, but is already being recognized as a remarkable attempt to target climate change.

The two nations have been at odds in recent years, especially as the US was suspected of crafting plans to insincerely “pivot” [1] their attention to Asia to ensure a political presence there. Tensions were exacerbated due to accusations that President Obama supported pro-democratic protestors in Hong Kong earlier this year [2]. Meanwhile, U.S. officials and media sources have repeatedly criticized China’s stance on human rights, inciting further discord.

Although the government received backlash for focusing on Asian interests, such focus may eventually progress relations with China. China is one of our strongest allies, and maintaining civil relations with them is crucial to our nation’s success. The “pledged cooperation” [2] on the climate change agreement marks a step forward in Sino-American relations.

Curbing emissions and improving air quality is a hot topic in foreign politics, particularly in big cities like Beijing and Paris where the air quality is dangerously unhealthy. It is an issue that requires action and is almost guaranteed to garner Congressional support. Americans that want to improve the current condition of the environment exist in both parties and thus both parties are open to taking action. This issue is one of the few that has the potential to get through Congress and through the Oval Office successfully now that the republicans hold the majority in Congress and a democrat remains in the White House.

The remainder of President Obama’s term in office is dependent upon his foreign success; it’s possible that his involvement in the APEC agreement will be one of his last notable accomplishments for the rest of his presidency. This past fall would have been a struggle for any President, having to handle continued threats from Isis and dealing with the Ebola pandemic. However, President Obama has little time left to make an indelible mark on history. Perhaps he has the opportunity, with this agreement and other future initiatives, to make environmental progress his legacy.