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China to launch national cap-and-trade plan in 2017, US announces

The Guardian logo The Guardian 9/25/2015 Suzanne Goldenberg US environment correspondent
A girl makes her way to her house which is next to cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China, January 28, 2015. © REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon A girl makes her way to her house which is next to cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China, January 28, 2015.

China, the world’s biggest carbon polluter, will launch a national cap-and-trade scheme in 2017, the White House said on Thursday.

Related: 'Big Daddy Xi' attempts to charm US but tough crowds still await

The move, announced on the eve of a summit in Washington between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, would make China the world’s biggest carbon market, overtaking the European Union, and could strengthen global efforts to put a price on carbon.

White House officials said the cap-and-trade plan would be formally announced on Friday along with a “very substantial financial commitment” from China to help the world’s poorest countries fight climate change.

The US has already pledged $3bn to a Green Climate Fund for poor countries.

China’s announcement of a launch date for the national cap-and-trade system – though long anticipated – will help solidify the joint efforts the two countries have taken on climate change.

Chinese officials have been promising since last year to consolidate existing regional cap-and-trade schemes into a national programme.

China already has a network of seven regional carbon markets, but there are wide variations in pricing among them.

White House officials said the new national scheme would cover power generation, iron and steel, chemicals, building materials including cement, paper-making and nonferrous metals which together account for a large share of China’s carbon pollution.

The White House acknowledged in a conference call with reporters that the Chinese actions were helpful to Obama’s efforts to fight climate change by neutralising Republican arguments that the US was acting alone.

“One of the arguments that has been proffered against the United States stepping up and providing more resources to help poor countries develop in low-carbon ways has been that if the United States steps up with resources, then other countries won’t – the sort of argument that if the US leads, then others will just take a backseat,” officials told a conference call with reporters.

Since Obama’s visit to Beijing last November, the US and China have undertaken a number of measures in tandem to fight climate change. Earlier this month, Chinese cities pledged to peak carbon polllution several years ahead of the national target.

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