In talks with Chinese leaders on her first diplomatic trip to Asia next week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to discuss how the two nations can work together to curb climate-changing industrial emissions.
China recently overtook the United States as the world's top polluter. A new report published by Asia Society and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change urges the United States and China to collaborate on ways to reduce their contributions to global warming.
The report is both a vision statement and a policy roadmap for joint U.S.-Chinese efforts to combat climate change. Orville Schell, the director of the Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, says, "With the United States and China together contributing close to 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions a year, it is time that we began to find a way to collaborate."
During the eight years of the Bush administration, the United States refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty on climate change. President Bush argued that the treaty's call for mandatory reductions of industrial emissions would harm the U.S. economy and that developing nations were exempt from such reductions targets.
But the new Asia Society/Pew Center report notes the overwhelming scientific consensus that human-induced climate change poses grave economic and environmental risks for all nations. Pew Center Director Eileen Claussen says new domestic legislation or multilateral agreements are not needed in order for the United States and China to begin building a stronger partnership - we should begin right away.
"If it's done right," she says, "the two countries can tackle three critical issues at the same time: climate change, clean energy and energy security."
The report recommends that the United States and China convene a leaders' summit that would launch a joint action plan and appoint officials to guide bilateral policy. Clausen says the two countries could then scale up collaboration in several key areas: developing technology for clean use of coal, enhancing energy efficiency, deploying renewable energy and committing greater resources for joint research.
"Smart investments can provide immediate stimulus, especially important in these economic times, while laying the foundation for a new low-carbon economy that will pay dividends for years to come," she says.
Delaying these investments "will drive up the cost of getting our emissions under control and expose us to even greater economic risk from the impacts of climate change."
While 24 of the 50 U.S. states are engaged in regional efforts to reduce climate-changing emissions, the report urges the United States to move quickly to enact mandatory national emissions curbs and urges China, whose top priority is economic development, to incorporate national emission reductions into all its development projects.
Xie Feng, a Washington-based Chinese diplomat, says his country is already taking steps in that direction. He says China launched an ambitious climate change program in 2007 that regulates emission reductions, energy use and even pollution-abating forest cover.
"We have set clear targets for 2010 - [based on 2005 emissions] reducing energy intensity by 20 percent, cutting major pollutants discharged by 10 percent and expanding forest coverage from 18.2 percent to 20 percent."
At the heart of the huge U.S. economic recovery program now working its way through Congress are green jobs and grants, tax breaks, and loans that promote renewable energy. Claussen says that while national governments can catalyze change, success hinges on mobilizing the energies, ingenuity and capital of the private sector.
"Fashioned carefully, closer collaboration can enhance the economic prospects of both nations, while giving neither an unfair competitive advantage."
Claussen says bilateral action is not an alternative to a strong multilateral agreement on climate change. Rather, she says, it is a means of engaging the world's two largest polluters to help lead the way in that urgent global effort.