More perspectives on the announcements coming out of Beijing, this time focusing on the implications on Copenhagen. Co-written with my colleague Andrew Light and originally published here.
The United States and China announced on Tuesday a package of cooperative agreements on clean energy and climate change that are remarkable in both breadth and ambition (see previous post “Obama and Hu announce comprehensive strategy for clean energy and climate change collaboration“). The cluster of seven initiatives, partnerships, action plans, and research centers covers a range of low-carbon energy strategies from electric cars to energy efficiency technologies.
These agreements follow on the heels of last Sunday’s announcement at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting that the United States has embraced the Danish proposal for finalizing an interim international climate agreement in Copenhagen in December. The U.S.-China summit help further signal a positive shift in expectations for Copenhagen between the two countries responsible for 40 percent of the planet’s anthropogenic carbon emissions.
Perhaps the most important, and most overlooked, achievement at this week’s summit was the commitment to promote greater transparency on efforts to reduce emissions. This should increase confidence for the prospects of creating a robust international agreement on climate change.
Transparency, accountability, and verification
It is now clear that China is signaling its increasing willingness to meet the standards of transparency, accountability, and verification that will Read the full story
Last Thursday (June 4), the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations conducted a hearing with the self-explanatory title of “Challenges and Opportunities for U.S.-China Cooperation in Climate Change.” An all-star trio of China hands provided testimony: Kenneth Lieberthal of University of Michigan and visiting fellow at Brookings Institution, Elizabeth Economy of Council on Foreign Relations and Bill Chandler of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace. Although actual testimony (except perhaps Lieberthal’s) did not track the prepared testimonies that are accessible in the preceding links, they are all well researched and reasoned and worth the read. [Update: Video of actual testimony available here]
Senator John Kerry, the chair of the Committee, set the context for the session in his opening statement:
Last week, I visited China to assess where the country currently stands on climate and energy issues, and to explore opportunities for cooperation going forward. I met with top Chinese political leaders, energy executives, scientists, students, and environmentalists. What I heard and saw was enormously encouraging. Chinese decision-makers insisted to me repeatedly that China now grasps the urgency of this problem. People who, a few short years ago, weren’t even willing to entertain this discussion, are now unequivocal: China is eager to embrace low-carbon development pathways and is ready to be a positive, constructive player in negotiations going forward.
The question is how.
How can we believe you?
Rather than provide a thorough summary of the proceedings, I will focus on what I thought was the key message that lays at the core of Economy’s testimony, but was also touched upon by Lieberthal and Chandler-the need for measurable, reportable and verifiable (MRV) actions (<–very helpful WRI report, btw), as called for in the Bali Action Plan. In Economy’s words, MRV is “the very building blocks of an effective domestic climate program for China as well as China’s commitment to a robust international [climate] regime.”
But Lieberthal was realistic about what China could commit to in Copenhagen, saying: Read the full story
U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern delivered a speech on Wednesday (June 3) on the relationship of China and the U.S. and what both must do together as we head into a crucial period of bilateral and multilateral meetings on climate change.
Click here for video of speech.
Click here for full transcript of speech.
The basic message of Stern’s speech was this: “Thus, the impression that China refuses to take action is both inaccurate and unfair. Yet China can and will need to do much more if we are to have any hope of containing climate change.”
Stern was clear to reassure China that his call for China to take action was not an underhanded tactic of trying to suppress China’s economic development:
What China can do – and many in Chinese leadership clearly recognize this – is not to stop growing, but to grow smarter. The only way China will meet its development needs in the long run is to a) rebalance its economy away from polluting industry towards job-creating services, b) increase the efficiency with which industry and buildings consume energy and c) find alternatives to coal or ways to use it cleanly. In short, it is not a tradeoff between economic growth and environmental protection. China must do both.
The United States for it own part has its work cut out, concluded Stern: Read the full story
On climate change, things are heating up on the international front. Last week, we saw the second Major Emitters Economies Forum in Paris and separately, a delegation led by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senator John Kerry visited China to talk climate, energy and other things. This week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in Beijing and the Bonn climate meetings are also taking place. The news wires are going a little tizzy.
I will be sad to miss Zou Xi’s talk at BEER on toxic waste management (or the lack thereof), which if you are in Beijing you should try to attend. But while I am in D.C., I can console myself to two great looking events. On Wednesday (June 3), 10:30 am EST (10:30 pm Beijing time, after BEER), Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy on climate change, will be at my place of work to share his views on how he sees China fitting into the climate change accord. A live webstream of the event will be available here.
On Thursday (June 4, 10:00 am EST), the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will conduct a hearing with the self-explanatory title of “Challenges and Opportunies for U.S.-China Cooperation in Climate Change.” An all-star trio of China hands will give testimony: Bill Chandler of the Carnegie Endowment (“secret talks”!), Elizabeth Economy of Council on Foreign Relations and author of A River Runs Black, and Ken Lieberthal of University of Michigan.
Needless to say, you’ll hear what I have to say right here on The Green Leap Forward!
“This climate change crisis is a game-changer in U.S.-China relations…an opportunity that cannot be missed”
- Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House Speaker, May 26, 2009 in Beijing.
The nomination of Jon Huntsman, currently the governor of the state of Utah, as the U.S. ambassador to China brings back into focus the role of clean energy cooperation in the furthering of U.S.-China relations. The choice of Gov. Huntsman has been lauded for various reasons-his fluency in Chinese, his track record as an Asian diplomat, the bipartisanship on the part of President Obama in nominating a Republican for the position (although some say he did so to take Gov. Huntsman, a likely Republican contender for the 2012 elections, out of contention)-but receiving less attention is the fact that Gov. Huntsman is a vocal advocate of the clean energy economy and the greenest governor that Utah as ever had (see youtube video interview).
The siren calls for US-China collaboration on clean energy and climate change action have been sounding nonstop ever since a new sheriff took over in Washington, D.C. Such exhortations are well grounded in the similarities of the two countries’ energy profiles. China and the U.S. are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) in absolute terms on annual basis, both are heavily reliant coal for power and imported petroleum for transportation fuel and other non-transportation uses and both have had (and continue) to build continental-wide energy infrastructure to support a large population. Various groups, such as Brookings Institution, Asia Society and Pew Center, Natural Rersources Defense Council, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have recently published reports providing policy recommendations for clean energy cooperation to form the basis of a momentous new chapter in U.S.-China diplomacy.
But Elizabeth Economy and Adam Segal warn in a recent piece titled “The G2 Mirage” in Foreign Affairs (subscription required) that we are only setting ourselves up for failure we we think that the U.S. and China are the only players in the game: Read the full story
The use of “carbon cap equivalents” provides a more accurate accounting of what countries are doing to combat climate change, and could be just the tool that helps countries forge a new climate agreement this December in Copenhagen.
In this momentous 100th post on The Green Leap Forward, I would like to share with readers an article that my new colleagues and I penned, entitled Counting the Real Progress on Climate Action, released just this morning (Thursday May 27, Washington, D.C. time). It was picked up hours later by the New York Times in a story highlighting U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Beijing. Unfortunately, the New York Times gets it wrong and corrupts the meaning of our article when it says:
A bill being considered by the House [of Representatives in the U.S. Congress] would compel the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and to 83 percent below by 2050. But that plan is well below the opening demand by Chinese leaders, who want developed nations to reduce 2020 emissions by 40 percent from 1995 levels [see this article on China's demands], and it falls short of commitments by the European Union as well.
American officials have already rejected the Chinese proposal as unattainable. The Center for American Progress, a Democratic-leaning research organization, said in a report published Wednesday that the House legislation was unlikely to win enough Chinese support for the two nations to present a united front at the Copenhagen talks in December.
In short, the Michael Wines, the NYT reporter (who does not specialize in environmental reporting, I might underscore) makes it sound as if we are saying that an impasse in Copenhagen is inevitable because the expectations of both sides are too far off. If one actually reads our article, it is clear that our central message is, in fact, the opposite: Read the full story
Thinking Out of the Climate Box: Re-Examining Monolithic Approaches to the "Common But Differentiated Responsibilities" Impasse
As international climate talks conclude today in Bonn, Germany, the time is right for another climate change policy edition of The Green Leap Forward. Today, we explore emerging new frameworks that might just get China on the path to enacting tangible emissions reductions.
All eyes are now on the U.S. (with new leadership), and as always, China. Climate change policy in the two biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting countries (on an annual basis) is heating up. Earlier this year, we witnessed a few zesty exchanges between US and China delegations as the latter continues its unswerving resistance to any possibility of binding emissions caps, peddling its “common but differentiated responsibilities” (hereinafter “CBDR”) refrain.
CBDR has been the linchpin argument of China’s negotiation position in the international climate change policy arena (see previous post ). CBDR is grounded in a concern for social equity, best explained in terms of examining (1) who are historically culpable for GHG emissions while giving consideration to (2) per capita emissions and (3) the relative economic development status of each country. The typical Beijing position would amount to something like the following:
Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) should be calculated on a per capita basis from 1900 to ensure fair play as nations strive to halve global emissions by 2050…developed countries, which are home to just 20 percent of the world’s population, have contributed 75 percent of all global GHGs emissions since the Industrial Revolution, according to the website of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Cumulative carbon dioxide emissions should be calculated on a per capita basis for each country, so that every nation can shoulder a common but differentiated responsibility for climate change…Such a calculation “better reflects the principal of equity for developing countries”…
GLF has been traveling and getting a little caught up on side projects, but let’s play some catchup. Let’s pick things up with two specific appointments by President-elect Obama which have implications for U.S.-China energy relations–one being the 1997 Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Steve Chu of Lawrence Berkeley Labs (LBL) as the new Secretary of Energy, and the other being Dr. John Holdren, physicist and energy technology policy professor at Harvard and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center (whom yours truly had the pleasure of meeting in the copy room as a policy intern there way back in 2003) as the White House science & technology adviser.
Besides being a director of LBL, Dr. Chu (pictured right) is also a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at Read the full story
Happy Fourth of July to our American readers. As Thomas Friedman, renown New York Times columnist and cleantech convert, likes to say, “Green is the new Red, White and Blue.” US energy security and indeed economic development through the creation of green collar jobs depend on a thriving cleantech industry. In the international relations arena, cooperation on cleantech and environmental governance also offers an opportunity for the US to repair the goodwill that Bush has squandered over the last seven and a half years.
G8. All eyes are on the US as international climate talks amongst the major developed nations at the G8 Hokkaido Tokayo Summit are held next week. The US ranks dead last amongst the eight nations in terms of climate action according to a report recently released by the World Wildlife Federation and Allianz, the insurer. Hosts Japan is urging numerical emissions reduction targets be adopted and is seeking to be a role-model energy efficient economy. Though not an official member of G8, delegates of major developing countries such as China will be in attendance. China maintains its position that developed countries should lead the way on binding measures to reduce emissions, but says it is open to “discussing longer-term commitments, and Tokyo’s proposals for emissions goals for specific industries.”
Californication. But Americans are not waiting for the US federal government to act. Previously, I highlighted the efforts of JUCCCE. China Dialogue also recently ran an interesting piece highlighting the efforts of several Californian institutions taking the lead in collaborating with China on clean energy issues, including the China Energy Group (part of the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), University of California—Berkeley, the utility Pacific Gas and Electric, US-China Green Energy Council and Energy Foundation. Just last week, California announced its ambitious plan to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2020.
Crossing the Straits. Meanwhile, cross-straits relations reached a milestone with the first commercial flights in 60 years between China and Taiwan resuming today. In his short tenure at the helm so far, the new Taiwanese President, Ma Yin Jiou, has already brandished his environmental credentials. The Green Leap Forward hopes that the this new era of cross-straits relations will also mark a new avenue of clean energy and environmental cooperation. As a start, check out this zany but cool and high-tech idea of increasing efficiencies of mass transit using a “train that never stops,” courtesy of a Taiwanese inventor Peng Yu-lun (note expressions of audience towards end of video):
Plastic Bags. Finally, a look at how China’s plastic bag regulations, one month in, are faring. Comapre the upbeat review by Worldwatch with the more sobering and mixed observations of China Environmental Law. My personal experience in Beijing has been that free plastic bags are still being freely doled out by street vendors and markets, which makes me wonder, what percentage of Chinese consumers shops in supermarkets and department stores anyways? It will be interesting to see how enforcement of the regulations play out. Either way, the era of free/cheap petrochemical-laden plastic bags have to come to an end as oil prices march towards US$300. Planet Earth could certainly do without plastic soup.
Today’s headlines were predictably dominated by the new two-week round of Climate Change talks in Bali, Indonesia, participated by delegates of some 190 countries. This is the round where it is expected that negotiations for a successor protocol to the Kyoto Protocol, once the latter expires in 2012, are to commence (and hopefully conclude within a two year time frame). With Australia providing a rare piece of good news on the eve of the proceedings that it has ended its hold-out and ratified the Kyoto Protocol (leaving the U.S. as the only developed country to have not ratified it) all attention is on the “Big Three”–the U.S., China and India (neither China or India are obliged to make obligatory emissions cuts due to their developing country status)–to meaningfully participate in the global process.
The U.S. has repeatedly made clear that it is staunchly opposed to binding itself to any obligations without China and India participating. China, on the other hand, wants developed nations to take the lead (and so does the U.N.). Gao Guangsheng, a senior Chinese climate change official, has been critical of the efforts of developed countriesto provide help in funding, and especially, technology. While China has benefited lucratively from the Clean Development Mechanism(CDM)under the auspices of the Kyoto Protocol, there have been limited transfers of meaningful technology because the majority of CDM projects in China target the destruction of HFC-23 (a greenhouse gas found mostly in low-tech refrigerators), a task that required technology that is readily available in the rest of the world. It can be inferred that the lack of intellectual property protection is what’s making technological investments in China unattractive to multinational corporations, and this surely must be addressed sooner rather than later.
We need not rely on moral arguments alone. Article 3.1 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Article 10 of the Kyoto Protocol make clear that any actions that treaty participants bind themselves to should be in accordance to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” Here’s a heavy legal explanation, but simply put the phrase means that differences in development levels, historical responsibilities and current per capita emissions of various countries. should be taken into account when determining the obligations of different countries. This phrase is by no means a novel concept; it is a principle of international environmental law etched into the Rio Declaration of 1992 that the U.S. is in fact a signatory of.
15 years later the U.S. is still acting like it doesn’t understand it.
To be sure, China is well aware of the threats that climate change poses. Over the weekend, reports have told of how China is now experiencing the hottest temperatures in over 50 years. And just today, there was an article in the South China Morning Post(subscription required) of how climate change is expanding the tropical zone, in some places as much as also five degrees, such that Shanghai might now be thought of as a tropical city. My previous post has briefly discussed some of the measures that China has enacted, some of which are quite progressive and unprecedented. While China still has a ways to go to figure out how to reduce its overwhelming reliance on coal, as BP likes to say, “its a start.”