Climate Deal with China: U.S. Makes Cuts, PRC Can Increase Emissions for 16 Years

President Obama visited a People's Republic exploding with military might and a region rife with human-rights abuses including the democracy demonstrators under threat in Hong Kong, and is leaving China with a climate-change agreement.

An agreement, say congressional critics, that isn't worth the signed paper.

The incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), welcomed the freshman class of the 114th Congress to the Hill today and reserved his few remarks before the cameras for the climate pact.

"I was particularly distressed by the deal apparently he's reached with the Chinese on his current trip, which as I read the agreement requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years while these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state and other states around the country," McConnell said.

The White House said the deal consisted of Obama pledging to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Chinese President Xi Jinping set "targets" to "peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030."

The administration said the pact was "the culmination of months of bilateral dialogue" and "highlights the critical role the two countries must play in addressing climate change."

"The actions they announced are part of the longer range effort to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy over time. These actions will also inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris."

The White House added that the "ambitious target" agreed to by Obama "is grounded in intensive analysis of cost-effective carbon pollution reductions achievable under existing law and will keep the United States on the right trajectory to achieve deep economy-wide reductions on the order of 80 percent by 2050."

What exactly does China, which is cloaked in soupy pollution up to 20 times safe limits, have to do in return?

The administration considers it a victory that China agreed to peak its carbon dioxide emissions -- much later down the road.

"The United States expects that China will succeed in peaking its emissions before 2030 based on its broad economic reform program, plans to address air pollution, and implementation of President Xi’s call for an energy revolution," the White House said in a fact sheet on the deal. "China’s target to expand total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030 is notable."

Meanwhile, Obama will press forward with his second-term Climate Action Plan. "This is an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable goal. It will double the pace at which we're reducing carbon pollution in the United States," Obama said at a press conference with Xi. "It puts us on a path to achieving the deep emissions reductions by advanced economies that the scientific community says is necessary to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. It will help improve public health. It will grow our economy. It will create jobs. It will strengthen our energy security, and it will put both of our nations on the path to a low-carbon economy."

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, stressed to CNN that China, in reality, will "continue to increase their emissions until 2030."

"They're long gone after that, and so, it's easy to say something like that when in fact they are saying they're going to increase one additional coal-fired plant every 10 days in China for the foreseeable future," Inhofe said.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) summed it up as "terrible for the United States and terrific for the Chinese government and for the politicians there."

"Emissions in the United States have actually been going down over the last decade. So this is going to end up raising costs of energy for American families. People that are hurt the most are people of low income, people living on a fixed income. So I think it's irresponsible to impose expensive new regulations on energy in the United States, which makes us, as a country, less competitive economically," Barrasso told MSNBC.

"The president has gotten very little and he's given away much in the agreement."

The current ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), panned the characterization of the pact as a landmark achievement.

"When the president talks about lowering global carbon emissions - what's he's really saying is he wants to push through his failed cap-and-trade policy that will make energy prices skyrocket here at home,” said Vitter. “There's nothing ‘breakthrough’ about Obama's attempt to pass failed policy, or having China tell us that maybe in 15 years they’ll try to reduce their emissions.”

Industry groups jumped in on the chorus of criticism, with American Energy Alliance president Thomas Pyle calling the "back room" deal with China "a perpetuation of the status quo disguised as meaningful policy change."

"While China makes empty and non-binding promises that it 'intends to try' to halt its emissions growth a decade and a half from now, President Obama promises to accelerate the pace by which his policies raise our energy costs and harm our economy," Pyle said. "…India, one of the fastest growing emitters, is noticeably absent from this deal because its leaders refuse to sacrifice its economic well-being at the altar of climate change."

The Sierra Club applauded the president and called China's part of the deal "a huge step forward that signals a historic shift away from dirty fossil fuels."

“By setting their sights high, the U.S. and China are showing that they are serious about taking action on the climate crisis, and that together, the international community can beat back climate disruption," Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Democrats were mixed on the deal. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called it "a very important step forward on climate change," adding, "of course, these commitments have to be met."

"I wish Mitch McConnell would, you know, stop keeping his head in the sand when it comes to climate change. It's costing us billions and billions of dollars a year already. And let's get to work," Van Hollen said on MSNBC, referring to "billions of dollars in the form of extreme weather events that are making things like Hurricane Sandy more intense in terms of the damage they do."

Coal country Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), though, said he needs to assess "what the true implications will be on the front lines here at home."

"I am encouraged that the Chinese are willing to come to the table and that the Administration has recognized the importance of investing in research for clean fossil fuel technology," Manchin said. "That being said, we cannot enter into an agreement that asks little of the Chinese, while simultaneously promising more than we can achieve domestically with our current technology.”