TIME climate change

China Shows It’s Ready to Grow Up on Climate Change

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a press conference at the Great Hall of People on Nov. 12, 2014 in Beijing.
Feng Li—Getty Images President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a press conference at the Great Hall of People on Nov. 12, 2014 in Beijing.

China lives up to its responsibilities on global warming

The U.S. diplomats wandering around the Copenhagen airport in the aftermath of the 2009 U.N. climate summit looked like the walking dead. With reason—those talks, billed as the most important climate negotiations ever, were pure torture for almost everyone involved, just barely saved from total collapse by the last-minute creation of the relatively weak Copenhagen Protocol. And while there was plenty of blame to go around, including for the U.S., much of it was directed at China, which consistently blocked negotiations throughout the summit and almost managed to torpedo the protocol. No wonder the American negotiators looked so exhausted—they’d just spent a fortnight grappling with a country that seemed firmly opposed to doing anything about global warming.

But China, it seems, has changed. The climate deal worked out between Washington and Beijing on Wednesday—you can see the details in this post by Emily Rauhala— won’t come close to saving the planet on its own. No, the deal isn’t binding, but few international agreements really are.

While together China and the U.S. account for 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, this marks the first time that the world’s two biggest carbon emitters sat down and agreed together to limits on future greenhouse gas emissions, however voluntary. And more importantly, it marks what seems to be a very different approach by Beijing on international climate diplomacy—and perhaps on diplomacy more generally.

As Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations notes, the fact that Beijing chose to work together with the U.S.—usually an antagonist on climate and other issues—may be more meaningful than the emission targets themselves:

China has typically gone out of its way to assert its independence in anything climate-related. That approach would usually have led it to announce major goals like these in a clearly unilateral context – even if they were developed in tandem with the United States. Rolling them out together with the United States says that China is increasingly comfortable being seen to act as part of an international effort.

Environmentalists hope that the announcement from Beijing will inject a little momentum into flagging global climate negotiations, which begin shortly in Lima and are meant to culminate with a real global deal in Paris at the end of 2015. Perhaps. But while it might seem as if a problem like global warming can only be solved with a global deal that covers every country, the reality is that just a handful of countries account for nearly all greenhouse gas emissions—China and the U.S. first among them. What they do—alone or in concert—is what will ultimately matter.

There is no shortage of skeptics picking apart the U.S.-China deal—David Stout has a good roundup of them here. Any time governments make promises about action they won’t carry out for more than 15 years—long after today’s leaders are out of office—there’s reason to be skeptical. Climate diplomacy is like dieting: tomorrow is always a lot easier than today.

However, the very fact that China is publicly willing, in concert with the U.S., to dedicate itself to emissions targets that will be challenging is a sign that there is political will in Beijing to move on climate change, as well as political confidence that technological means will be there to do so without cramping the country’s all-important economic growth. It’s a sign, as Fred Kaplan writes in Slate, that China understands that “with great power comes at least some responsibility.”

That fact, more than the specifics of emissions cuts or timeframes, is what really made the China-U.S. climate deal historic.

TIME ebola

Why Ebola Isn’t Really a Threat to the U.S.

Members of Bellevue Hospital staff wear protective clothing as they demonstrate how they would receive a suspected Ebola patient on Oct. 8, 2014 in New York City.
Spencer Platt—Getty Images Members of Bellevue Hospital staff wear protective clothing as they demonstrate how they would receive a suspected Ebola patient on Oct. 8, 2014 in New York City.

Ebola will not likely spread within the United States

Give us this—when Americans overreact, we do it all the way. Over the past week, in response to fears of Ebola, parents in Mississippi pulled their children out of a middle school after finding out that its principal had traveled to Zambia—a nation that is in Africa, but one that hasn’t recorded a single Ebola case. A college sent rejection notices to some applicants from Nigeria because the school wouldn’t accept “international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases”—even though Nigeria has had less than 20 confirmed cases and the outbreak is effectively over.

The American public is following its leaders, who’ve come down with a bad case of Ebola hysteria. That’s how you get even-tempered politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo musing that the U.S. should “seriously consider” a travel ban on West African countries hit by Ebola, while some of his less restrained colleagues raise the incredibly far-fetched possibility of a terrorist group intentionally sending Ebola-infected refugees into the U.S. It’s little surprise that a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans are concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

They shouldn’t be—and two events that happened on Monday show why. WHO officials declared Nigeria officially “Ebola-free.” And in Dallas, the first wave of people being monitored because they had direct contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., were declared free of the diseases.

Nigeria matters because the nation’s is Africa’s most populous, with 160 million people. Its main city, Lagos, is a sprawling, densely populated metropolis of more than 20 million. Nigeria’s public health system is far from the best in the world. Epidemiologists have nightmares about Ebola spreading unchecked in a city like Lagos, where there’s enough human tinder to burn indefinitely.

Yet after a few cases connected to Sawyer, Nigeria managed to stop Ebola’s spread thanks to solid preparation before the first case, a quick move to declare an emergency, and good management of public anxiety. A country with a per-capita GDP of $2,700—19 times less than the U.S.—proved it could handle Ebola. As Dr. Faisal Shuaib of Nigeria’s Ebola Emergency Operation Center told TIME: “There is no alternative to preparedness.”

But Nigeria’s success was also a reminder of this basic fact: If caught in time, Ebola is not that difficult to control, largely because it remains very difficult to transmit outside a hospital. For all the panic in the U.S. over Ebola, there has yet to be a case transmitted in the community. The fact that two health workers who cared for Duncan contracted the disease demonstrates that something was wrong with the treatment protocol put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—something CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has essentially admitted—and may indicate that the way an Ebola patient is cared for in a developed world hospital may actually put doctors and nurses at greater risk.

“You do things that are much more aggressive with patients: intubation, hemodialysis,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “The exposure level is a bit different, particularly because you’re keeping patients alive longer.” But now that U.S. health officials understand that additional threat, there should be less risk of further infection from the two nurses who contracted Ebola from Duncan—both of whom are being treated in specialized hospitals.

Even the risk of another Duncan doesn’t seem high. For all the demand to ban commercial travel to and from Ebola-hit West Africa, this region is barely connected to the U.S. in any case. Only about 150 people from that area of Africa come to the U.S. every day—less than a single full Boeing 757—and many airlines have already stopped flying. But there have been relatively few spillover cases even in African countries that are much more closer and more connected to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Besides Nigeria, only Senegal has had cases connected to the West African outbreak—and that nation was declared Ebola-free today as well. (There have been cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that’s considered a separate outbreak.) The worst Ebola outbreak ever is raging in three very poor nations—but it seems unable to establish itself anywhere else.

None of this is to deny the scale of the challenge facing Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the Ebola has fully taken hold and the disease is still outpacing our efforts to stop it. But West Africa is where our fear and our efforts should be focused—not at home, where Ebola is one thing most of us really don’t have to worry about.

TIME

Time for Change on the Climate

Some of hundreds of thousands take part in the People's Climate March through Midtown, New York
Adrees Latif—Reuters Hundreds of thousands of people showed up for a march before a major U.N. summit on climate change in New York City

The public is agitating for action on global warming—but will politicians listen?

The hundreds of thousands of protesters who marched through New York City on Sept. 21 made one thing very clear: climate change is no longer just an environmental issue. The People’s Climate March was an effort to demonstrate that there is popular will to push for action on climate change, for practical reasons that go well beyond just saving the planet. “People are making the argument in the streets,” says Naomi Klein, a Canadian activist and author of the new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

That argument is finally reaching the ears of some world leaders. At the U.N. climate summit on Sept. 23, more than $200 billion was promised to support clean energy and climate resilience among developing countries. “Our citizens keep marching,” said President Barack Obama in a speech at the summit. “We cannot pretend we don’t hear them.”

There’s just one problem. The country whose actions will do the most to decide the future of the climate is the one country that is the least responsive to public will: China.

If preventing major climate change required only developed nations like the U.S. to cut carbon, we might be fine. Greenhouse-gas emissions in most rich nations have been falling in recent years, the product of slower economic growth and a shift to cleaner sources of energy.

(WATCH: Incredible Timelapse of The Earth Changing Over 3 Decades )

But the vast majority of carbon being emitted over the coming decades will originate in rapidly growing developing nations—and China most of all. Already China is responsible for 28% of global carbon dioxide emissions, more than the U.S. and the European Union combined. Sixty percent of the growth in global emissions since 2002 is due to China. And while the U.S. has still emitted the most carbon historically since the industrial era began, it won’t be long before China takes that title as well. The argument that Beijing has long used—that climate change is the sole responsibility of the West—will no longer hold water.

To its credit, China has made real efforts in recent years to slow the growth of its carbon emissions and clean up its energy supply. China is the largest producer of solar and wind power on the planet, and when you include hydropower, renewables make up 20% of its energy mix—higher than in the U.S.

But that progress is being more than offset by a single trend: growing consumption of coal. Coal-fired power plants are the single biggest contributor to man-made climate change, and in 2012, China consumed nearly 4 billion tons of coal—almost as much as the rest of the world combined. China is projected to add the equivalent of a new 500-MW coal-fired power plant every 10 days for the next decade, at a time when countries like the U.S. are moving to reduce coal consumption. If that happens, the world’s slim chance of averting potentially dangerous global warming will vanish.

So it wasn’t encouraging that Chinese President Xi Jinping chose not to attend the U.N. climate summit, sending Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli to address the international body instead. (The new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi—whose country is also on a pace to significantly add to climate change—was also a no-show.) Zhang said that by 2020, China would aim to reduce its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by 45% compared with 2005 levels, and that the country wanted to have its total emissions peak “as soon as possible.” But that won’t be enough.

Of course, the reality is that no country is truly doing enough to avert warming. Despite the growth of renewable-energy sources like wind and solar, global emissions of greenhouse gases jumped by 2.3% in 2013 to record levels. This summer—the months of June, July and August—was the hottest on record for the globe, and 2014 is on pace to become the hottest year overall. We’re losing the fight.

The protesters who came out to the People’s Climate March in New York—and to the thousands of other events held that day around the world—will keep pushing their leaders to do much more. In China, where something like the climate march could never have happened, citizens won’t have that opportunity. But Chinese leaders should still be listening. Like it or not, they have a growing responsibility to deal with one of the biggest challenges the world faces. As Obama said at the U.N.: “Nobody gets a pass.”

TIME Egypt

After the Revolution: Sitting Down With Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi
Peter Hapak for TIME President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt in New York City on Sept. 23, 2014

In one of his first interviews with the U.S. press, Egypt's President pushes for a wider war on terror in the Middle East

A shorter version of this interview appeared in the Oct. 6 edition of TIME magazine:

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi won an election in May — but the former army chief has been essentially in charge of the country since ousting Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, last summer. Al-Sisi remains mostly popular at home, where he is pushing reforms to jump-start Egypt’s moribund economy. But he’s been criticized for his crackdowns on Morsi’s Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood and on journalists and free speech in Egypt.

In one of his first interviews in the U.S., al-Sisi spoke with TIME on Sept. 23 about the America’s war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Egypt’s economy and the influence of Islam in his life.

On U.S. action against ISIS: Imagine what would happen if you leave it without action. We still need more effort — it should not be limited to Iraq and ISIS. This is a threat not just to the Middle East but to the whole world … I want to be clear with you that this ideology constitutes a problem. There’s a fine line between extremism and killing. If we hadn’t saved Egypt, there would have been a major problem created. The U.S. did not pay attention to that.

On ousting Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood: You dealt with the developments in Egypt as a movement by the military. But the military was not thinking of making a coup. It was the Egyptian people who demanded that change of identity … A country like Egypt caught in a vicious cycle of extremism would be a threat to the whole world. The U.S. would have felt the need to destroy Egypt.

We have been fighting terrorism in the Sinai [Peninsula] for a year and four months. If the Muslim Brotherhood had been in office for another year, Sinai would have become something like Tora Bora [in Afghanistan]. It would have been civil war in Egypt. Egyptians wouldn’t have stood still, [and] on the other side, the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were ready to fight.

On Egypt’s domestic challenges: Egypt has not faced problems of this scale for over 40 years. [We have] striking poverty, unemployment, idleness of the young people. This is fertile soil for problems. Our population growth is 2.6 million people a year. In 10 years time, we expect to have 30 million people more. This is a reason for the revolution in Egypt. They want change and to move forward to a brighter future. Unfortunately, Morsi did not deal with the magnitude of the problems. The government alone in Egypt won’t be able to tackle all of the problems, [but] Egypt cannot afford to fail. Two revolutions is more than enough.

On the future of the Muslim Brotherhood: Our first elections were free and fair. The result of that free choice was the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim Brotherhood was accepted. But I say that in any election to be held [in the future] the Muslim Brotherhood will not be fortunate to have a share.

On the risks of foreign jihadists in the battle against terrorism: Watch out for your citizens who join jihad. When they come back to their communities, they will pursue the same practices. This is why we can’t just limit the effort to the military. The actions taken over the past year are not enough to terminate this … No one country is immune to this ideology. The foreign fighters will come back to your country. I’m afraid it will be disastrous.

On the role of Islam in his life: I simply represent moderate Islam. I’m concerned about the challenges of poverty and ignorance in the Muslim world. I can’t be against Islam — I consider myself a devout Muslim — but the reality poses a challenge.

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