President Obama Aims for U.S.-China Deal on Climate Change

The Guardian (UK)
wrote that the Obama administration is making a U.S.-China deal on climate change a centerpiece in its efforts to reach a global agreement at the UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen later this year. According to the Guardian, Todd Stern, the U.S. Climate Change Envoy, said a deal between the two countries, the world’s two largest polluters, would be critical to reaching a global agreement. During a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, Stern said: “China may not be the alpha and omega of the international negotiations, but it is close. No deal will be possible if we don’t find a way forward with China.”

The Guardian argues Stern may be pursuing the blueprint for U.S.-Chinese action to address global warming that came out of “secret back-channel negotiations between US and Chinese officials,” which began in the final months of the Bush administration. According to the Guardian, U.S. and Chinese officials drew up a Memorandum of Understanding, which was left unsigned, but stated that the U.S. and China would: “use existing technologies to produce a 20% cut in carbon emissions by 2010; co-operate on new technology including carbon capture and storage and fuel efficiency for cars; and sign up to a global climate change deal in Copenhagen.”

Stern also said instead of trying to reach agreement on a cap on emissions, the U.S. would first aim for an understanding on technical co-operation, including technology transfer. “He said that would include collaboration in developing new technologies for industrial efficiency, expanding the use of solar power and– perhaps most importantly from the Chinese point of view – developing techniques for carbon capture and storage. That would enable China to clean up its many coal-powered energy plants. He also said there was scope for joint effort on improving building efficiency and developing electric vehicles, where the Chinese have made a big push.”

While the U.S. is pursuing agreements with Brazil, Indonesia, and India (all major developing-country polluters, producers of renewable energy, and stewards of carbon sinks such as the Amazon and Kalimantan), any deal with China must be made on a bilateral basis. Stern was quoted as saying: “The vision we have is of a clean energy and climate partnership bilaterally with the Chinese.”

The Obama administration may be investing much in talks with China, realizing that without a deal with the other major polluter, a domestic climate change bill may have less of a chance of passing Congress. The New York Times writes: “Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House global warming committee, acknowledged that without significant concessions from China, Congress might be disinclined to act on its own package of emissions limits.” As part of the same lobbying effort, Hillary Clinton, in her first policy address as Secretary of State, said she wanted to “recast the broad U.S.-China relationship around the central issue of climate change.” At the Asia Society, the site of her speech in early February, she said she wanted a “rigorous, persistent engagement” on climate change. Clinton also stopped in Beijing on her first foreign tour.

Stern returns to China for more talks, following on a recent trip to China by a U.S. Congressional delegation led by U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. The New York Times wrote that the recent Congressional talks didn’t yield significant progress, but Pelosi remained “hopeful.”

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