Todd Stern: China Has To Do Much More To Contain Climate Change

U.S.Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern delivered a speech onWednesday (June 3) on the relationship of China and the U.S. and whatboth must do together as we head into a crucial period of bilateral andmultilateral 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 impressionthat China refuses to take action is both inaccurate and unfair. YetChina can and will need to do much more if we are to have any hope ofcontaining climate change.”

Stern was clear to reassure China that his call for China to takeaction was not an underhanded tactic of trying to suppress China’seconomic development:

What China can do – and many in Chinese leadershipclearly recognize this – is not to stop growing, but to grow smarter.The only way China will meet its development needs in the long run isto a) rebalance its economy away from polluting industry towardsjob-creating services, b) increase the efficiency with which industryand buildings consume energy and c) find alternatives to coal or waysto use it cleanly. In short, it is not a tradeoff between economicgrowth and environmental protection. China must do both.

The United States for it own part has its work cut out, concluded Stern:

So we need to press forward with our own efforts toenact a broad-based, mandatory program to drive the clean-energytransition and limit our emissions. And that includes promptly enactingstrong legislation to cap carbon pollution.

We need to listen and not just lecture.

We need to make clear that we support China’s growth and developmentand have no desire to constrain it through climate change commitmentsor in any other way.

We need to acknowledge the impressive steps the Chinese have alreadytaken to promote low-carbon development and the new ones that will becoming off drawing boards soon.

We need to set our minds to joining with China in an active, real partnership, on the principle of mutual benefit.

And we need to recognize that if we aren’t careful, we may spend thenext few years pushing China to do more, but will then spend all theyears after that chasing them, as
they hurtle profitably down the road to the low-carbon transformation.

In the Q&A, some interesting tidbits emerged:

  • When asked what types of collaboration he thought the Chinese wasinterested in engaging, Stern identified building efficiency, electricvehicles, and (”depending on who you talk to”) carbon capture andsequestration (CCS).  Its interesting that he put a qualifier on CCS (Ihave heard third-hard news that some camps in China are less enthusedwith CCS because it only addresses carbon emissions and not otherpollutants such as SO2 or particulates; better to deploy solutions thatcan tackle all at the same time, goes the thinking), but Stern went onto express his personal view that CCS is a vital area of research.
  • He views China’s calls for developed countries to cut emissions by40 percent by 2020 as rhetoric and takes it as seriously (i.e. not veryseriously) as China (and Group 77’s) call for developed countries tocontribute 0.5 to 1% of their GDP to a multilateral fund.  Stern saysthe U.S. is “full on board” with the concept of financial and technicalassistance, but “not at the level (of funding) they are talking about.”

Next post:  An exclusive interview with Todd Stern.

Other China buzz

This week, Stern heads a delegation to Beijing with White HouseScience Policy Adviser John Holdren and Assistant Secretary for Policyand International Affairs at the Department of Energy David Sandalow to“deepen the dialogue” with their Chinese counterparts with a longerterm goal of creating a bilateral agreement on clean energycooperation.  We’ll see what emerges from these discussion, thought weprobably should not expect much at this point.   In the backdrop ofthese meetings, however, some news outlets are reporting China isshowing a new willingness to engage.  According to Reuters:

…China is also looking to take some of the initiative inclimate change politics by setting its own the path to lower greenhousegas emissions and eventual outright reductions.

The nation’s next five-year development plan, starting from 2011,will focus on creating a “low-carbon economy” by reducing coal use andencouraging clean energy, said Wang Yi, an expert on climate change atthe Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“In the past, China has been reactive in policy-making, respondingwhen the West has put forward its demands,” said Wang, chief author ofa recent 415-page study laying out a blueprint for a low-carbon economy.

“Now instead of others criticising us, we’re saying, ‘Why don’t we take the initiative by proposing our own policy goals?’”

China Daily is more dramatic, reportingthat “China will put in place carbon dioxide emissions targets for itseconomic and social development programs, the central government haspromised.”  I would not put much stock into this report, which is notvery well written and really does not elaborate on this statement inthe rest of the article.  What it likely refers to are sector specificenergy efficiency standards, not hard carbon emission caps.  But thearticle does describe some discussions to enhance accountability withinits ranks:

[T]he State Council also promised to name and shameprovincial governments that fail to meet their 2008 targets of energyconservation and emission control.  According to an accountabilitysystem unveiled in 2007, leading provincial officials who fail to meetthe targets would not be promoted in future.



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