As a result of the secretly negotiated agreement, China has committed by 2030 or sooner to cap its carbon production and increase its green energy output, while the US has said it will reduce its emissions by 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2025.
While the bilateral deal falls short of the EU’s commitment to a 40 per cent reduction in harmful greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, experts have said it will “inject a jolt of momentum” in advance of climate talks to be held in Paris next year.
While the agreement does not specifically mention a change in dietary habits, significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved if both countries pledged to curb their appetite for meat.
China is of particular concern, given that it is home to a fifth of the world’s population. Meat-consumption quadrupled there in the 20 years to 2005, when it stood at an average of 59.5 kg of meat per year for every one of China’s 1.35 billion people.
In 2005 more than half of the country’s harmful agricultural emissions came from livestock production, equivalent to 445 million tonnes of CO2 – not counting feed production and transport emissions. China now produces half the world’s pork, a fifth of its poultry and 10 per cent of its beef.
In a 2013 report in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists suggested that implementing a tax or emissions trading scheme on the emissions caused by the livestock industry “could be an economically sound policy that would modify consumer prices and affect consumption patterns”.
While it is to be hoped that the US-China deal will target meat consumption as a significant contributor to climate change, the focus is currently on power generation.
To meet its commitment China will have to develop more clean-energy plants than it currently has coal-fired power stations, generating an additional 800-1,000GW by 2030 – almost as much as the US’s current electricity generation capacity.
The deal is already having an impact by putting pressure on countries that had hitherto resisted calls to cut their own emissions, including G20 host Australia.
“No nation is immune [to climate change] and every nation has a responsibility to do its part,” said US president Barack Obama in a speech in Brisbane at which he also committed $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund for developing nations. One of the things the US had in common with Australia was a significant output of carbon dioxide. Both countries had to “step up,” he said.