Obama’s China Trip: US-China Joint Statement, Clean Energy Projects, and Environmental Capacity-Building MOU

President Obama and his team look like they’ve had a productive day in Beijing, even if Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had to remind the media that the Obama team was not expecting “that the waters would part and everything would change over our almost two-and-a-half day trip to China.” The just-released U.S.-China Joint Statement is almost encyclopedic in its coverage of the challenges facing these two world leaders, with commitments to work together more closely on them.

Many of these commitments, particularly in clean energy, are backed up with specific programs and projects. DOE issued a full range of fact sheets today on everything from science and technology cooperation to the full range of specific technologies – energy efficiency, renewables, electric vehicles and carbon capture and storage, all available in our Library & Data section. This comprehensive approach should enable the two countries to:

  • Better use current technologies in energy efficiency to reduce the carbon intensity of both economies
  • Better use rapidly-developing technologies in the renewables area, solving problems together that emerge as we transform our energy systems
  • Focus on the major issue of coal in both countries’ energy mix by working together to store underground the CO2 emissions released by burning coal, and
  • Develop new technologies to better address climate change and move these technologies more rapidly to market.

Each country has committed $75 million over 5 years to a new U.S.-China Joint Research Center for Clean Energy, which means the research center has an approximately $30 million/year budget, considerably increasing the US DOE’s commitment to joint research on clean tech. Equally remarkably, the joint statement emphasizes the two countries’ commitment to upgrading overall scientific cooperation.

An oft-forgotten fact is that back in 1979, when China and the U.S. normalized relations, the U.S.-China Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement was the first agreement signed between the two nations. So, from the very beginning, scientific cooperation has been crucial to deepening bilateral ties, and these ties have served as ballast for the U.S.-China relationship. In recent years, scientific work in China by the Department of Energy has not kept pace with that of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Science Foundation (NSF). It is great to see this new commitment to bilateral science, and especially to DOE-supported research at a time when climate scientists head both DOE and the White House Science Office.

Another key agreement today was a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) for capacity building for developing China’s greenhouse gas inventories. Greenhouse gas inventories are a key reporting requirement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the EPA hopes to help NDRC’s Energy Research Institute (ERI) systematize the preparation so it will be able to track overall emissions in a regular and continuous manner.

Energy cooperation was the subject of a two-day U.S.-China GreenTech Conference running in parallel with the President’s visit. Participants delved deeply into areas as diverse as electric grid management, electric vehicles and carbon capture and storage. The WRI-China CCS project featured prominently in the CCS discussion, which featured advisory committee members from Shenhua Group and the Clean Air Task Force. Both Shenhua and Huaneng (two of China’s largest energy companies) signed deals with the US private sector to work on CCS as part of the major signings today.