Monday, June 8, 2009

China US Climate Change Cooperation Part 1

China expert Orvell Schell has an article on YaleEnvironment 360 about the US-China conflict over climate policy; its worth reading. He contends that key actors in the US and Chinese government view climate change as an economic and political opportunity for the world.

Developing nations like China and India are seeking to modernize their economies for a green future. Realizing that it’s impossible economically and ecologically to develop just as the United States did, both countries are trying to leap ahead by becoming dominant players in emerging technology markets like solar and clean coal. As last week’s Foreign Relations Hearing demonstrated, China’s government has passed substantial legislation aimed at modernizing its electricity grid, promoting renewable energy, manufacturing electric cars, and building energy efficient buildings.

Now, the United States’ relationship with China is changing in light of the threat of climate change. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and a delegation of Members of Congress, visited China two weeks ago to see China’s efforts first hand. Pelosi, who in 1991 unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square recognizing the massacre in 1989, wrote an Op-ed today calling the climate change crisis “a game-changer in the U.S.-China relationship.” Because the US and China collectively contribute to about 40% of current greenhouse gas emissions, any international treaty on climate change will need both countries on board.

China’s government could have trouble meeting its ambitious goals. at all levels is notoriously plagued with corruption and a lack of transparency at all levels: both symptoms of a totalitarian state. Pelosi thinks China’s attempts at combating climate change will necessitate political, not just economic, liberalization:

“Our governments will have to make difficult decisions that must be based in
science. The challenge of the global climate crisis must be met with openness,
transparency, respect for the rule of law, and the government must be
accountable to the people. The principle of environmental justice must be
upheld, especially when poor people are more adversely affected by drastic
environmental changes than others.”

Elizabeth Economy, at last week’s hearing said the same thing. Unless local officials in China start actually following the environmental policies the national government sets out and stops falsifying data or ignoring the law, China’s emissions will never be reportable, measurable or verifiable and thus it’ll be unable to meet any of its international obligations or actually improve its climate. That’ll only happen if the Chinese government makes itself more accountable and transparent at all levels.

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