Top US-China Experts Discuss Tianjin and US-China Climate and Energy Issues

The international climate meetings in Tianjin on October 4-9 will be a key moment for US-China relations on climate and energy. Today ChinaFAQs experts held a press call to discuss how the countries are cooperating on climate and energy issues, and the challenges and benefits involved.

“The first thing to note is the political significance of China hosting an important UN climate change negotiating session. It shows the importance China puts on the issue of climate change, but also its commitment to the United Nations,” said Jennifer Morgan, Director of WRI’s Climate and Energy Program.

A recording of the entire call is available below:

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The call featured:

  • Jennifer Morgan, Director, Climate and Energy Program, World Resources Institute
  • Kenneth Lieberthal, Director, John L. Thornton China Center, and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution
  • Deborah Seligsohn, Principal Advisor, China Climate and Energy Program, World Resources Institute (Beijing)
  • Joanna Lewis, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs (STIA), Georgetown University

Listen to ChinaFAQs experts respond to questions:

  • Why is China opposed to ratifying the Copenhagen Agreement?
    (begins at 20:36)
  • Jonathan Pershing has accused China of walking away from the Copenhagen Accord. Have any of the experts seen any evidence to support this? How much does this weaken the US ability to make Copenhagen a basis for moving forward?
    (begins at 23:56)
  • In which areas do you think there is the most hope for finding agreement in Cancun?
    (begins at (29:19)
  • Experts were then asked to comment on the role of trade policy regarding the United Steelworkers petition to the U.S. Trade Representative which alleges China employs unfair trade practices for green technologies.
    (begins at 32:30)

Text Summary:

(1:39)
Jennifer Morgan introduced the participants and then framed the discussion by noting the political significance of China hosting an important UN climate change negotiating session, which evidences
(2:55)
“the importance that China puts on the issue of climate change, but also its commitment to the UN.” Morgan noted that the outcome of this meeting is going to focus on progress in the negotiating text for the Cancun negotiation at the end of November and early December.

(5:15)
Ken Lieberthal focused on U.S.-China cooperation on climate and on clean energy.
(6:30)
Noting that the US and China are the world’s largest emitters of GHGs, he identified the issue of who is responsible for what and what types of responsibilities each should take on as a “troublesome” one that must be resolved.
(6:59)
The US is currently supporting the Copenhagen agreement, while “China has made quite clear that it wants to base future actions on Kyoto and on the Bali Action Plan, but not on the Copenhagen agreement.” However, he believes that both are prepared to take a pragmatic approach in Cancun.
(8:26)
On Clean energy, US-China cooperation is “far easier than it is on climate change” without the issues of historical emissions. The two countries can seek win-win cooperation efforts, “of which there are many,” because their “national strengths are relatively complementary across much of the spectrum of clean energy.” The concerns to be addressed are in the protection of intellectual property rights and trade practices, but these can be easier to manage on a case-by-case basis.
(9:51)
“Clean energy cooperation has been moving ahead very rapidly, and the momentum is continuing to build.”

(10:15)
Joanna Lewis discussed recent developments in renewable energy cooperation.
“In a carbon constrained world, the US and China will have no alternative but to become far more active partners in developing low-carbon economies, which expands the role for renewable.”
The reasons for cooperation are many: similar resource profiles
(12:44)
China has taken impressive strides in RE manufacturing; the U.S. still leads in innovation, investment in research and development, and in deployment.
(13:16)
China can benefit from cooperation by learning from U.S. expertise in deployment and operation of wind farms, and this area is a major focus of the US DOE’s current cooperative programs with NREL to improve siting and efficiency of wind farms on China.
(14:03)
The US can learn from China as a “natural laboratory” for testing new technologies for large-scale wind deployment.

(14:35)
Deborah Seligsohn talked about China’s efforts to develop its domestic policies and progress on moving toward it’s renewable energy and energy efficiency targets.
(15:53)
“[China] has a strong incentive structure in place, as well as support for new technologies.”
(16:10)
She then highlighted the new Clean Energy Research Center involving the US and China.
(16:35)
The US has experience in doing research and development, modeling and pilot projects, while the Chinese have shown "tremendous enthusiasm from companies for trying these new technologies out on the ground, and an increasing interest in trying these technologies out at scale.”

The experts then responded to questions from a number of journalists:

(20:36)
Why is China opposed to ratifying the Copenhagen Agreement?
Lieberthal: The language is vague on MRV- they worry about intrusive international monitoring
Morgan: They are uncertain about the US commitment to a 17% reduction.

(23:56)
Jonathan Pershing has accused China of walking away from the Copenhagen accord. Have any of the experts seen any evidence to support this? How much does not having a US climate bill weaken the US ability to make CA a basis for moving forward?
Lieberthal: No country is being asked to specify how they are going to achieve their target. Our negotiating position has been seriously weakened by the Senate’s failure to pass a climate bill.
(26:14)
Lewis: China is moving forward on the carbon intensity target which was listed in the appendix of the Copenhagen Accord. We are seeing signs that China is now putting in place a system to help measure emissions and help meet that target. “There is quite a bit happening domestically in China which should lead us to believe they do take that pledge seriously.”

(29:19)
What areas do you think there is most hope for finding agreement in Cancun?
Morgan: They were close in some ways to reaching an agreement in Copenhagen on the issues of technology, creating a tech cooperation mechanism; in adaptation they were close to identifying the key elements of an adaptation framework; on REDD+ they were close to having a readiness initiative. On Finance you are seeing some movement going forward on what Todd Stern called the “three step process.” One piece to look for is on what happens to the pledges themselves, whether they are brought into the convention and formalized. Lots of new text that is noncontroversial may be “put to bed” so that when ministers arrive in Cancun they will be able to focus on a limited number of core issues.

(32:30)
Experts were then asked to comment on the role of trade policy regarding the United Steelworkers petition to the U.S. Trade Representative which alleges China employs unfair trade practices for green technologies.
Lewis: Too early to predict outcomes- USTR is looking into it.
(34:10)
Lieberthal: To make new technology cost-competitive, you need to build at scale. The US is good at technological innovation, but China is good at scaling up. “If you can coordinate regulations in both countries so that you have compatible regulations and new products get access to both markets, that enhances the speed of building scale enormously.”
(35:20)
Secondly, the USW case highlights “our huge failure in the US, in my mind, to have consistent forward-looking serious policies that enable folks working on clean energy to understand what the regulatory future looks like, to be incentivized to really invest in these technologies, and therefore to leverage our own very impressive financial and technological capabilities to become major players in this arena. So, the Chinese focus on this like a laser beam to get an industry developed and moving ahead, and we are not doing what we need to do, especially on the regulatory side, to make us as significant in this field as we really need to be.”
(36:06)
Seligsohn: The steelworkers want to see good jobs in the US, and want to see this petition resolved through the proper channels. “But while that’s happening, things like adopting RPS or raising the price of carbon in the US, providing long term incentives for RE developers in the US are all options open to the US government that the USW have been advocating for years and would actually help spur the clean energy industry in the US.”

END