China-India MOU

With Copenhagen less than two months away, China’s international climate change relations seem in permanent high gear. This week was notable both for a new Memorandum of Understanding between China and India on climate change cooperation, and for a telephone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao to encourage progress toward Copenhagen.

The Chinese climate team spent most of this past week in New Delhi, most notably signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on climate change cooperation with their Indian counterparts. If you take a look at our comparative charts of major countries from our latest policy brief on the U.S. and China, you’ll see that in reality China and India are quite different, both in terms of total emissions and their energy use profiles.

But the two countries share both some challenges and some advantages that make increased cooperation between them a potential big winner for both countries and for the world. India and China both have:

  • Large populations (over 1 billion) and real resource constraints.
  • Relatively plentiful coal supplies.
  • Vibrant and rapidly growing renewable energy industries.
  • Renowned research universities and institutes.
  • A commitment to poverty alleviation, combined with continuing concerns about inequality, especially in rural areas.

They also have very different systems both of government and of corporate governance, which means they often take different approaches. Ideally, sharing best practices might help both countries.

A little competition might be part of the story, as well. For example, both countries are known for their wind industries which to some extent compete against each other. In the world of diplomacy, cooperation and competition may be two sides of the same coin. In the past few months China had been much more aggressive in calling for progress toward Copenhagen. Now India’s Environment Minister has suggested perhaps some change in India’s approach – the news on this has been moving rapidly, but perhaps the most interesting piece was a couple weeks ago by Jim Yardley in the New York Times (New Script for India on Climate Change). Both countries look like they would like to be seen as bringing the world to agreement on climate change. While continuing to be uncomfortable with discussion of total emissions caps, the dialogue in developing Asia has moved considerably in the last six months, with much more talk of carbon intensity targets (as we discussed last week in relation to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s speech at the United Nations).

Presidential Phone Call

This week also featured a telephone call between President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao, which both countries reported to be focused on climate change. The reported content needless to say was about pushing for a successful deal at Copenhagen. What was most important was that in the midst of all the things happening globally in the world now and politically in the U.S. the two leaders kept the climate priority high on the agenda.

President Hu reportedly suggested that increased cooperation on climate change could improve Sino-U.S. relations. A new report by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China suggests the same, if not in so many words.

Photo by seaview99, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.