Category: Climate Change

How China Beat the U.S. and Became the New Green Tech Giant

By , August 31, 2010

China marches on to be the global green tech leader

Originally Posted on Foreign Policy Digest

China no longer needs to worry about the U.S. as a serious green technology competitor because the U.S. just left the race. After a year-long impasse, Senate majority leader Harry Reid confirmed on July 22, 2010 that the Democrats would not be able to secure enough votes to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act and, thus, would abandon any further efforts to do so.

But, in today’s globalized economy, rising powers like China are willing and readily able to capitalize on America’s missed opportunities. The climate change bill would have provided a coherent U.S. energy policy, directed investment to green technology and created much-needed American jobs. Instead, those investment and job opportunities will likely go to China. With China’s rapid expansion into the clean technology sector, the U.S. is being left behind and leaving many to wonder–will it ever be able to catch up?

BACKGROUND

Although the U.S. debate on climate change dwells on the prevention of environmental damage, the Chinese government focuses on the economics of climate change, emphasizing the direct link between clean technology and China’s energy security and economic competitiveness. Former Center for American Progress senior policy analyst Julian Wong explained in a recent testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission that China’s emphasis on the economic upside of clean technology has imbued its energy policy with a greater sense of urgency, allowing the country to surpass the U.S. in many renewable energy industries.

With over 4,000 miles of track laid domestically, China is the leader in high-speed rail.  It has pledged $300 billion to bring high-speed rail to many parts of the country and is exporting its expertise to Turkey, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and potentially, even California. Notoriously stingy at funding its rail system, the U.S., on the other hand, has pledged a relatively paltry $8 billion and has only one high-speed rail line. Instead of developing cleaner rail technology, the U.S. continues to develop carbon-intensive modes of transportation, investing in highways and air transit.

China has also become a global leader in the renewable energy sector. As the leading manufacturer of solar panels, China exports most of its solar panels overseas. As for wind, China installed the largest number of wind turbines in the world in 2009, expanding its wind capacity by 13 GW. By contrast, the U.S. only expanded its capacity by 10 GW in 2009. But, China’s prowess in renewables should not come as a surprise. In 2009, China invested $34.6 billion in green technology, making it the leader in renewable energy funding; the U.S. came in second, investing $18.6 billion.

Some critics argue that the Chinese government has an unfair advantage because an authoritarian system can funnel money easily to industries it wants to promote. The largest commercial banks in China are state-owned and–at the insistence of the central government–have provided ample low-interest loans to green technology companies. The U.S. market economy, on the other hand, cannot require American banks to give out favorable loans. Furthermore, China has used protectionist policies, like its “indigenous innovation” policy, to promote home-grown companies at the expense of foreign ones.

ANALYSIS

While some of these arguments are reasonable and should be addressed in trade talks with the Chinese, their importance in explaining the U.S.’ second-fiddle status is exaggerated. The criticisms serve only to obscure the real issue behind the U.S.’ downfall in the green technology sector – the lack of a coherent national energy policy. In the U.S., the climate change debate too often ignores the important role of government in promoting emerging industries within the capitalist framework and cooperating with the private sector. Silicon Valley, for example, flourished because of government support and its close ties to government, particularly the defense agencies. To attribute China’s competitive edge to its planned economy is to suggest that capitalism and free markets are what hinder the U.S. ability to be a viable competitor in the global green technology market. But, American history shows that government support bolsters innovation.

Capital will flow to where there is some level of certainty in investment. Venture capitalists are sinking their dollars into China’s green technology because the Chinese government has a crystal-clear policy, which it has backed by huge investments in renewable energy–sure signs of a government’s sincere commitment to promoting green tech. These investors are also receiving huge returns on their Chinese investments.  China’s richest person is now believed to be Wang Chuanfu, founder and chairman of BYD, a battery and electric car company in China.

Furthermore, it’s not just Chinese capital that is flowing. This September, Chinese wind turbine manufacturer Mingyang Electric will seek to raise $500 million in an initial public offering in the U.S. If the U.S. wants that capital to remain within its borders, the federal government needs to make an equally strong commitment to renewable energy. Until Congress passes some sort of legislation signaling its commitments to certain industries, capital–even U.S. capital–will continue to flow to China and green technology innovation in the U.S. will remain at a standstill.

In his testimony, Julian Wong raised the crucial point that, although the U.S. still leads China in green technology research and development (R&D), eventually, those R&D dollars will want to move to China, too. By its nature, R&D needs to be geographically close to its manufacturing base, as well as to the end users of its products. In fact, some U.S. companies–including important players like Applied Materials, DuPont, and IBM–have already begun to move their green tech R&D to China.

China has clearly surpassed the U.S. in key green technology industries and has established the economic infrastructure to lead the green technology market. Instead of trying to stay on the offensive, Congress has defensively decried China’s authoritarian government and indigenous innovation policies and aroused fear of China’s threat to American economic dominance. Aside from rhetoric, it is unclear what substantive actions Congress is taking to make the U.S. green technology sector more competitive. If the U.S. followed China’s example in passing green tech-friendly policies, it may be able to catch up. But, by ignoring that possibility and abandoning any hopes of climate change legislation, Congress has, instead, opted out of the green technology race. Unfortunately, the only losers in Congress’ ill-fated decision are the American public and the millions of Americans still out of work.

Follow Up on Recent Issues on China Law & Policy

By , July 28, 2010

A worn out Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid

The past week has provided closure to two issues China Law & Policy has been following  for the past few months.  Last week, Senate majority leader Harry Reid announced that the Democrats would not be moving forward on the climate change bill that had been sitting in the Senate for the past year.  Although the bill had the potential to completely reorganize the U.S.’ energy policy, the Democrats were unlikely to get the votes necessary to pass the bill and opted not to try.

The death of the climate change bill raises serious questions about the U.S.’ ability to compete with China on green technology.   The Chinese government has made major and obvious commitments to green technology, attracting capital from around the world.  Without a coherent energy policy, don’t expect investors to seek out green technology opportunities in the U.S.  Until the U.S. has a more coherent policy, anticipate the continued flow of capital to China.

As if the failure of climate change legislation was not enough, the Senate announced yesterday that it would not take up the DISCLOSE Act, the House of Representatives’ response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, a decision that expanded corporations’ speech rights in U.S. elections.  As China Law & Policy wrote soon after the decision, Chinese companies, some of which have ties to the Chinese government, could use the loophole of their U.S. subsidiaries to donate to U.S. campaigns. China Law & Policy testified before Congress in May on the legislation – the DISCLOSE Act – as it was being considered by the House of Representatives.  Looks like we won’t be testifying before the Senate anytime soon.

Gees, did Harry Reid just have the worst week ever?

Rare Earth Minerals – China Seeks to Make them More Rare

By , June 15, 2010
China's rare earth mine in Inner Mongolia

China's rare earth mine in Inner Mongolia

Last November, China Law & Policy reported on an obscure-sounding group of minerals found at the bottom of the periodic table: rare earth minerals.  While you may never have heard of them, you likely use them.  With their lightness in weight and resistance to heat, rare earths have been instrumental in many technological innovations, from color television, to laptops, to the iPhone.  Rare earths are also essential to any company that wants to succeed in the green technology revolution.  Rare earths are needed to create batteries for electric cars and for wind turbines.  Expect demand to increase.

But while demand increases, the global supply will decrease.  Why?  China currently produces 95% of the world’s rare earth minerals and in the beginning of June, the Chinese government announced that it was considering nationalizing its rare earth industry.  As China becomes a leader in green technology, its own domestic demand increases, leaving less to export.

Monday’s PBS Newshour did a 10 minute analysis of the rare earth dilemma, China’s demands and what it means to the U.S. as it seeks to catch up in the green technology revolution.  To watch the video or read the transcript, click here.

Happy 40th? – Congress Says Bye, Bye Climate Change Legislation

By , April 27, 2010

HappyEarthDayWith the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day this past April, Americans celebrated with vigor and advocated saving the planet.  Well, most Americans did.  As China-observer Marcy Nicks Moody notes, recent breakdown between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate could forestall any hope of the U.S. moving forward on climate change legislation.  And could allow China to remain ahead of the green technology game for a long time.

Happy 40th? – Congress Says Bye, Bye Climate Change Legislation

By Marcy Nicks Moody

Last Thursday, Americans celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day, established by U.S. Senator Gaylord

Earth Day Founder, Sen. Gaylord Nelson

Earth Day Founder, Sen. Gaylord Nelson

Nelson in 1970 to raise awareness of environment-related issues. Last Sunday, thousands gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC to participate in the Earth Day Climate Rally with the alleged goals to “stop protecting polluters,” “enact comprehensive climate legislation,” and “demand accountability from Washington.” There were exhortations to grow kitchen gardens along with clamorous chanting of the word ‘green.’ The weather was glorious, and spirits did not seem dampened by the blow dealt to climate legislation by the U.S. Senate just the day before.

Sandwiched between Earth Day and the Earth Day Climate Rally was the day on which another U.S. Senator, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, announced that he would no longer participate in negotiations on a Senate version of proposed climate legislation. In a letter to colleagues Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), Senator Graham cited his disappointment over reports that the Democratic leadership of the Senate was planning to take up discussions of immigration before addressing climate change as a reason for his changed stance.

Senators Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman were the primary architects of this bill-to-be and had been planning to formally announce the bill with the White House last Monday. But any debate on immigration would make it impossible to deal with national energy and climate change policy, the South Carolina Senator said. So he won’t support the draft climate change bill, in spite of the fact that he helped create it. Senator Graham won’t support some legislation because talking about something else would just be too painful or distracting? This seems a bit irrational.

In Happier Times - Senators Graham, Kerry & Lieberman

In Happier Times - Senators Graham, Kerry & Lieberman

Setting aside speculation over why Senator Graham radically and suddenly changed positions, the simple fact that he did it is disappointing. To be sure, the Senator is not the only culpable party in this turn of events. He is likely under enormous pressure from fellow Republicans to stop negotiating with Democrats. And if reports are true that both the White House and the Democratic Senate leadership had been planning to take up immigration first not because it could pass (the House has not yet discussed the matter) or because it is more urgent (climate change is equally as urgent: the longer we wait to address climate change, the more expensive it will be), but because it could present a useful wedge issue for the Democrats in the coming election cycle, then Senator Graham has every right to be peeved.

But unless Graham’s strategy has the result of getting climate change legislation considered in this session of Congress, it is bad for Americans. The science demonstrating the negative and possibly catastrophic consequences of anthropogenic climate change is overwhelming. That emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) must decrease is flagrantly obvious. And that the United States, which prides itself on its innovative strength, global leadership, and remains the largest economy in the world, has still not acted on this evidence is disgraceful.

It is also bad for business. The clean technology market is big and growing, but without the passage of climate change legislation, signals to U.S. businesses as to the future prices of clean versus pollution-intensive energy remain unclear. A recent Pew report on clean energy in the G-20 economies notes that appropriate domestic policies—such as those aimed at reducing GHG emissions or incentivizing the use of renewable energy—have tended to positively affect a country’s competitive position in the clean-tech market. The winners in this race include Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and—who else?—China. The United States does not make the shortlist of enlightened energy and environment policymakers of the rich world.

Lights out for the U.S. in the race for green tech?

Lights out for the U.S. in the race for green tech?

In fact, the Pew report finds that China has already overtaken the United States on several important measures (including, of course, its dubious distinction of being the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses for the past several years). In 2009, for instance, China overtook the United States for highest financing of and investment in clean energy. And it is likely to overtake the United States in installed renewable energy capacity soon. Though targets are not always met, Beijing has set ambitious targets for wind, biomass, and solar energy usage, and these targets do not exist solely not to be met. They may currently be aspirations, but that’s more than the United States currently has to go on.

Mitigating climate change and making U.S. clean-tech business better is accomplished by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The best way to limit GHG emissions is to put a price on them. Indeed, the fact markets have not already done so has been described by climate expert Nicholas Stern as “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.” The climate legislation which has been stalled and stalled and stalled again in the U.S. Senate is generally envisaged as a cap and trade system that would cap GHG emissions at a certain level, create a scheme in which licenses to emit GHGs could be traded, and eventually shrink gross amount of permissible emissions. This amounts to an indirect tax on GHG emissions, and though it is far from ideal, it would create a price for emissions at the margin and therefore makes strides in the right direction.

As the Senate continues to dawdle, the Earth Day Climate Change rally on the National Mall was far from unimportant. Especially in a democracy like the United States, it is important that citizens buy into ‘going green.’ It is important, frankly, that green be cool. But though considerations of how to green one’s lifestyle are admirable, they are not game changers. Coal is still cheap; Whole Foods is expensive, and “going green” remains largely the privilege of the wealthy in society.  Unless we change our laws.  The Senate should get to work. The alternative is to accept an outcome in which a hundred U.S. kitchen gardens bloom while a hundred Chinese companies compete for the top spots in clean-tech. In addition to, well, catastrophic climate change.

Marcy writes about China. In 2007-08, she was a Fulbright Scholar in China, where she was also a Research Fellow with the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. She received an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and graduated from Brown University.

Drama-Rama in Copenhagen – Will There Be a Deal?

By , December 17, 2009
Sec. of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen

Who would have thought that the U.N. Climate Change Conference could tear the world away from the on-going saga of Tiger Woods?  With protests in the streets of Copenhagen that escalate every day (click here for an insider’s perspective on the protests), a mass walk-out by developing nations from the conference, and constant barbs between the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG), the U.S. and China, the drama is running high in the closing days of Copenhagen and the world is on edge.  Will there be a deal?

As Marcy Nicks Moody noted, a legally binding treaty will not emerge from Copenhagen. However, going into Copenhagen last week, with both the U.S. and China announcing their respective commitments, a strong political agreement seemed possible.  But with the increasingly antagonistic discussion between the U.S. and China delegations, has the world reached an impasse?  Should everyone pack their bags now and head home?

Not quite yet.  There is still reason to have hope.

First, the very fact that there is heated discussion, disagreement and even anger is a good thing.  If Copenhagen was going to be a rubber stamp, a mere sheet of paper that no one was going to pay attention to, there would not be such dissension in the ranks, especially from the U.S. and China.  But countries like China and the U.S. are strategically considering their interests in anticipation of a strong political agreement that will likely provide the framework for a legally binding one in the future.

Second, we are still in the negotiation stages.  Yes, the exchanges between the U.S. and China over financial assistance,

China's Climate Change Ambassador Yu Qingtai at Copenhagen

China's Climate Change Ambassador Yu Qingtai at Copenhagen

transparency, and caps have become more hostile, but that could also be because, now with China on a more equal footing in the world, it is able to negotiate harder and play both offense and defense.

Additionally, the climate change talks have proved to be a growing experience for China and its leadership.  Copenhagen is the first international summit of substance that China is a part of in its new status as an emerging global power, forcing its leadership to confront the reality that such a title comes with both advantages and disadvantages.  China’s increased status in the world gives it the negotiating power to better protect its interests in the final document, surely a distinct advantage.   But its increased status also means that China’s interests are no longer completely aligned with the other developing countries’ interests; while China is still the de facto leader of “the Group of 77 plus China” and holds sway over many of the African nations because of trade alliances, there are times when China’s interests are adverse to the developing world’s.  As China’s power continues to grow, such division between it and the developing world will inevitably increase and China will have to become more comfortable with this fact.  Copenhagen is a reflection of these growing pains.

So how do we move forward?

Tomorrow, the leaders of the world will converge on Copenhagen with the goal of producing a clear and strong roadmap to a legally binding treaty.  The biggest issue that could prevent some form of a deliverable is the U.S. and China relationship.  So how do we move forward?

China has demanded international funding for its climate change commitments.  China argues that the western nations, for the past few hundred years, have been able to grow without any restrictions on their development.  Fossil fuels were used without consideration for the climate and lands were deforested with abandon.  China argues that the West’s irresponsible development vis-à-vis the global environment is the cause of the current climate change crisis.  But by asking that all nations partake in a climate change deal, China maintains that the West is unfairly spreading the costs of its own development on all countries.  As a result, China is demanding that if the West wants it to agree to a climate change bill that would require China to pay for past western growth, the West needs to offer some form of payment.

The logic underlying China’s argument cannot be denied.  However, if a deal at Copenhagen is not reached, China will be the cause of the world’s future climate crisis.  By that time, when the “score” between the West’s development and China’s will be equal, it will be too late to broker a deal.  Additionally, China’s demand for some form of climate reparations comes at a financially difficult time.  Politically for the U.S., it’s difficult to justify a blank check to the U.S.’ largest debt holder.

However, the U.S. should not just walk away from China’s demand since the U.S. could benefit from this as well.  China has already stated that without international funding, it will not allow outside international verification of its Copenhagen commitments.  The U.S. has balked at China’s refusal to allow for outside verification, and rightfully so.  While China has made some progress in improving its statistical measurement ability, it is still worlds away from the West and given some of China’s past practice of using measurements that produce falsely positive results, the West is right to be skeptical.

But Copenhagen could serve as an opportunity to help China develop its capacity to measure and verify data as well as 121509_polar_monster_397x224implement its commitments on the local level.  And this would not just help with climate change.  China has a horrible record of statistical reporting in every sector – environmental, criminal justice, trade disputes, and economic development.  However, with the assistance from the West, China will not just learn to better measure its own development but will become more comfortable with public reporting.  This could create a more reliable and transparent government, something that both the Chinese people and the outside world could benefit from.

Thus, hopefully in these last few days, the U.S. and China can reach a targeted agreement whereby the U.S. and the West will provide financial assistance to China’s attempts to better measure its data as long as China opens this process to U.S. and Western observation.

On the Eve of Copenhagen – China and the U.S. Join the rest of the World at the Table

By , December 7, 2009

Our last posting about the upcoming global climate change negotiations was not very positive; in fact very few analysts have been positive.  But the past week has proved interesting, with both the United States and China issuing carbon reduction plans, forcing us to reconsider our previous notion that Copenhagen will produce little results.

 

The U.S. and China Issue their Respective Climate Control Plans

cop15_logo_imgRight before Thanksgiving, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. will be attending Copenhagen with a promise to cut emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.  While it is a step forward that the U.S. will be attending the climate change talks with specific targets, those targets are still very much provisional.  Any targets coming out of the climate change talks will require Congressional approval post-Copenhagen.   While the 17% cuts proposed by the White House are identical to the GHG emission targets found in the House of Representative’s climate change bill passed in June, that bill has been languishing in the Senate, and will likely face an uphill battle once the Senate turns its attention from health care to climate change.   So whether the 17% cuts become a reality remains to be seen.

The day after the U.S. announcement, China issued a “carbon intensity target” reduction of 40-45% by 2020 to bring to Copenhagen.  While this looks huge on paper, in reality, it would allow GHG emissions to increase while China’s economy continues to grow, albeit GHG would grow at a lower rate.  Carbon intensity measures carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), so if your GDP skyrockets ever year, like China’s does at a rate of 8% a year, you can actually increase your absolute greenhouse gas emissions, and still show a 40-45% reduction by 2020.  Julian Wong on the Green Leap Forward also gives a good description of the math behind this.  China expects its GHG emissions to peak around 2035, a time that many experts believe is too late.

Although both the U.S.’ and China’s plans are far from perfect, at this stage, something is better than nothing from the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters.  And China has made concerted and sincere efforts thus far to increase its energy efficiency and reduce its greenhouse gas emission rate.

Now that China has set Some Targets Will it Be Able to Measure Them?

China is not known for reliable government statistics and while there has been notable improvements, its ability to

Copenhagen remains a game of Chinese chess

Copenhagen remains a game of Chinese chess

accurately measure and report its greenhouse gas emissions, and thus be held accountable to international commitments, has remained an issue leading up to Copenhagen.  Currently, China lacks the capacity – both technical and institutional – to provide such reliable data.

However, China has recently agreed to some cooperation with international and U.S. bodies to assist with developing its capacity to accurately measure its GHG emissions.  The U.S.’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Chinese counterpart, the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC), signed a memorandum of cooperation (which is a step up from a memorandum of understanding) to work on China’s capacity issues concerning its ability to measure its emissions output.

But as Charlie McElwee over on the China Environmental Law blog [website no longer available], the EPA-NDRC memorandum currently lacks particulars and will likely go nowhere without being fully fleshed out.  At Copenhagen, the U.S. and the E.U. need to pressure China to work more closely with foreign bodies in developing its capacity.  It is important that Copenhagen does not conclude without a detailed plan to develop China’s capacity.  Additionally, this capacity development, especially in terms of institutional development and the ability of China to enforce its environmental regulations at the local level, could potentially influence the enforcement of regulations in all fields of law, providing for greater rule of law in China.

China though will not make this access easy; China has already begun to use this as a bargaining chip for greater financial assistance from developed countries for its climate change policies.  China’s climate change ambassador, Yu Qingtai, announced recently that China will only allow foreign verification of its GHG emissions if it receives outside financial assistance: “Actions would be measurable, reportable and verifiable if (international) support is measurable, reportable and verifiable.”  China’s stance on this should not be surprising.  It has repeatedly asked for international financial support for its efforts to curb its GHG emissions since the current climate crisis has largely been a result of the developed world’s past actions and not because of China’s development (it’s the future environmental crisis that China will largely play a role in if things remain as is).  China’s argument is understandable and rings true.

Fortunately, the Obama administration remains open to discussing a financial commitment.  China appears ready to bargain – if the U.S. wants the access to assist China with developing its technical and institutional capacity, which is necessary for any agreement out of Copenhagen to truly succeed, it must be ready to bargain as well and provide some financial assistance.

Something Rotten in Denmark: What the U.S. & China Need to Do to Make the Most of Copenhagen

By , November 25, 2009
The Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change is set to start in less than two weeks.  Guest blogger Marcy Nicks Moody offers her assessment of what’s left of the road to Copenhagen and the necessary role the U.S. and China must play to move discussions forward.

Something Rotten in Denmark: What the United States & China Need to Do to Make the Most of Copenhagen

By Marcy Nicks Moody

Earlier this month, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen flew to Singapore to meet with President Obama and

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, trying to save the Copenhagen Conference

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, trying to save the Copenhagen Conference

other leaders on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit. With less than one month until the United Nations Climate Change Conference opens in Copenhagen on December 7 and little in the way progress on the negotiations, the APEC leaders and Danish Prime Minister discussed metrics for the success of the talks. APEC, an organization widely known for accomplishing little, served as an all too fitting forum for an announcement that a legally binding agreement is not going to emerge from the Copenhagen conference.

Though the announcement simply confirmed the writing already on the wall for those familiar with the negotiations, it was nonetheless disappointing. The terms of the Kyoto Protocol will expire in 2012, and a ‘Copenhagen Protocol’ to replace Kyoto has been a key goal for some time.

Indeed, the history leading up to Copenhagen is far from short. The aforementioned Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding protocol to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And the UNFCCC, in turn, is a non-binding treaty aimed at stabilizing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere in order to prevent severe changes in the world’s climate. It is, so to speak, the fountainhead of global climate change negotiations.

Moreover, though 182 countries (with the notable exception of the United States) are signatories to Kyoto, only 37 of these are bound to limit GHG emissions. Since Kyoto, climate science has become more precise, the price tag associated with the consequences of climate change has become more daunting, and the need for a broader global agreement has become more pressing. To that end, during the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference, an accord called the Bali Action Plan called for a new legally binding climate change agreement to be finalized by the 2009 conference in Copenhagen, with the aim of it going into force in 2013. Since the administration of George W. Bush proved generally unfriendly to restrictions on carbon emissions, it was hoped that 2009 would be the earliest point at which a broader global agreement could be reached.

The lack of a successor to Kyoto is not just disappointing, it will also be costly. The International Energy Agency’s 2009 World Energy Outlook estimates that each year of delay before moving to an emissions path consistent with the agreed level of a 2° C temperature increase will add $500 billion to the global incremental investment cost of $10.5 trillion for the period between 2010 and 2030. A new global climate change agreement is not simply necessary, it’s urgent.

Though the Obama administration is much more serious about climate change than the Bush administration was, U.S. negotiators have nonetheless had little to offer their foreign counterparts. In particular, the Senate does not plan to begin debating Waxman-Markey, the relatively stringent climate change bill passed by the House of Representatives, until next year. With the world’s strongest economy and largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases currently uncommitted to binding emissions targets, why would the rest of the world possibly want to offer up pledges of its own?

On Monday, Danish Ambassador to the United States Friis Arne Petersen published an article in The New York Times arguing that “Yes we can reach a strong, comprehensive and global agreement next month.” His letter, likely an attempt to control the reputational damage done to Copenhagen during APEC, makes the case for a ‘political agreement,’ with the goal of really, actually deciding upon a timeline for a successor to Kyoto this time. On the one hand, locking in progress made seems like a reasonable way to salvage failed dreams for Copenhagen. On the other, however, a “politically binding” agreement – as opposed to a legal one – will likely lack the teeth to be enforceable. Whatever emissions targets emerge from Copenhagen may thus evolve into nothing more than numbers on pieces of paper.

Can the U.S. & China Save Copenhagen?

Can the U.S. & China Save Copenhagen?

In spite of Senate sluggishness, however, officials in the Obama administration have been hinting that they will try to provide momentum by bringing something to the table in Copenhagen next month, and the other elephant in the global climate room—China—did agree to language in a joint statement during Obama’s Asia trip indicating that a comprehensive agreement would “include emission reduction targets of developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries.” Some may scoff, but it’s better than nothing. And though it is currently the world’s largest GHG emitter, China is far from ignorant about the dangers of local pollution and global climate change.

One way in which the United States and China could reinvigorate climate change negotiations is by articulating a broad agreement (one which has not yet been reached) on the differentiation of financial responsibilities for mitigation and adaptation. The United States and China are, of course, the world’s most prominent emitters from the developed and developing worlds. How they plan to account for these very different roles would be a useful outcome of Copenhagen.

A legally binding agreement is, tragically (and expensively), out of the question, but Copenhagen is still not a foregone conclusion. China Law & Policy will keep its fingers crossed that the United States and China will give some momentum to the process, and that we can really, actually have an agreement in Mexico in 2010.

Marcy writes about China. In 2007-08, she was a Fulbright Scholar in China, where she was also a Research Fellow with the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. She received an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and graduated from Brown University.

Steve Wolfson on the Need for U.S.-China Cooperation to Battle Climate Change

By , October 7, 2009

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is exactly two months away but has China and the U.S. made any headway in coming to terms with their differences on the climate change front?  In a new article published in the Tsinghua China Law Review,  senior attorney at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Steve Wolfson offers a positive outlook on negotiations with recommendations on how the U.S. and China can move forward to reach a meaningful climate change agreement.

In “Gathering Momentum for U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change”  Wolfson reviews the issues that have plagued climate change negotiations between the U.S. and China and the progress that has been made:

  • A Developed Country or a Developing Country? – China puts itself squarely in the developing nation category.  Developing nations were exempt from greenhouse gas emission targets for the Kyoto Protocol and will likely be again for the Copenhagen agreement.  But is China a developing country in the way that Cambodia or Ghana is?  Arguably no and given the fact that China surpassed the U.S. in 2007 for greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. and other developed countries should push China forward in agreeing to some type of targets.
  • Historic Responsibilities of the Western World – China rightfully claims that the planet’s current climate change crisis is a result of the centuries of development in the Western world.  China’s current development over the past 20 years has not caused the current crisis.  But the Western countries argue that, unless it limits its greenhouse gas emissions and works on its energy efficiency, China’s future development is what will make the present crisis into a death sentence for the world.  However, as Wolfson points out, there has been some movement by the U.S.  When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited China in February, she acknowledged the special responsibility of the U.S. due to its role as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases.  In his speech before the U.N. two weeks ago, President Obama also admitted to the historic differences between the U.S. and China in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • China’s Positive Progress on Controlling Carbon Emissions – Wolfson analyzes the various laws that China has passed to curb its greenhouse gas emissions and increase its energy efficiency.  He also takes note of China’s various initiatives to restructure its economy to improve its efficiency and reduce its emissions.

While Wolfson’s article offers much hope for U.S.-China progress on the eve of Copenhagen, he concludes on a slightly somber note, remarking on China’s inability to implement many of its national laws on the local level.  This is a problem that permeates all of Chinese society: the the Sanlu milk powder scandal last year, the recent and wide-spread lead poisoning  of children in villages that boarder factories, the importation of toys laced with lead from China; school buildings that do not withstand an earthquake; these are all examples of a regulatory system that fails on the local level.

China is sincere in its desire to be a leader in clean technology and to clean up its environment.  But its problem now is implementing any agreement that comes out of Copenhagen, and this is not because China does not want to; it is because China does not know how.

We at China Law & Policy have recommended in past posts and continue to recommend that U.S. policy makers seize the opportunity that Copenhagen offers to assist China with its legal development in the regulatory field.  Copenhagen should not just be about agreeing to targets; an agreement from Copenhagen should also include the U.S.’ commitment to provide resources on implementation and governance, knowledge exchanges between U.S. environmental regulators and Chinese environmental regulators, and an open-mindedness that it is going to take China some time to establish an effective regulatory scheme.  By assisting China with its regulatory development, the U.S. will not only make headways in establishing a greater sense of rule of law but could potentially benefit the lives of 1.3 billion people in a very real and tangible way.  Wolfson’s article reminds us of this.

Click here to Read Steve Wolfson’s Gathering Momentum for U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change.

The U.S. & China on Climate Change at the U.N. General Assembly

By , September 24, 2009

un_symbolThis past week the U.N. General Assembly in New York was filled with wave after wave of speeches and meetings dedicated to limiting global climate change.  With the December Copenhagen conference less than three months away, the question remains – has there been any progress?

On Tuesday, September 22, both President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao (pronounced Who Jin-Dao) separately addressed the General Assembly, each discussing their country’s commitment to a global climate change agreement.   Their rhetoric was considerably more conciliatory, signaling that perhaps the two largest polluters of greenhouse gases are finding common ground.  The substance of their speeches though, indicated that there still remains a large division between these two critical countries.

Conciliatory Rhetoric

This past summer saw many important countries digging in their heels on climate change.  In July and August, both China and India adamantly stated that they would not agree to any type of defined targets that would limit their greenhouse gas emissions.  In June, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change bill which received notable criticism from both sides of the aisle upon its passage, questioning the bill’s ability to pass the Senate.

But on Tuesday, President Barack Obama reinforced his Administration’s commitment to limit greenhouse gases, indicating his willingness to push his Democratic colleagues in the Senate to pass a climate change bill.  In response to the E.U.’s recent promise to assist developing nations both financially and technically in battling climate change, President Obama also committed the U.S. to help.

President Hu Jintao’s speech was heralded as a huge step forward for the Chinese.  President Hu affirmed his country’s

President Hu Jintao speaking to the U.N General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept 22, 2009

President Hu Jintao speaking to the U.N General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept 22, 2009

promise to tackle climate change and surprisingly mentioned China’s “mandatory national targets for reducing energy intensity and discharge of major pollutants…”

India also seems to be moving in the direction of targets.  In an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh discussed the possibility that India could adopt legislation increasing its energy efficiency and thus having “implicit targets.”

Divisions That Could Hamper an Agreement in Copenhagen

Target: What is in a Word?
The press has largely been positive to President Hu’s discussion of “mandatory national targets for reducing energy intensity,” heralding such a step as China’s “first commitment to climate change targets” and that China “pledges to lead effort to combat climate change.

While it is true that this is a step forward for the Chinese – never before have they used the word “target” in reference to climate change on the world stage – in no way is this a “carbon emissions target.”  In fact, China has been using “energy efficiency targets” domestically since 2005.  As John Romankiewicz explained on the Green Leap Forward, in China’s 11th Five Year Plan passed in 2005, the Chinese government established a 20% reduction target in energy intensity from 2006 to 2010.  While this is a laudable goal, it still allows China to increase its carbon emissions since there is no cap – the calculation is relative to the percentage growth of GDP.

China’s goal is to cut energy intensity as a percentage of its GDP.  If GDP rises, a rise in energy use, as long as it is lower than the previous year, can still show a reduction in energy efficiency.  For example, China’s National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC) noted that a 4% rise in energy consumption in 2008, matched with a 9% increase in GDP for that year, resulted in a 4.2% decrease in energy intensity from the previous year (see Green Leap Forward).

Additionally, a focus on energy intensity only marginally impacts carbon emissions, a fact not lost on President Hu in his speech on Tuesday.  After committing China to set targets to reduce its energy intensity, President Hu vaguely addressed carbon emissions by noting that China will “endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions [inaudible in original speech but likely “as a percentage of”] GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level.”

China has certainly taken a step forward on approaching some form of targets.  Furthermore, by even mentioning targets, China implicitly commits to making those targets measurable and verifiable as Julian L. Wong from the Center for American Progress noted, something that China in the past was not willing to do.  So there has been progress which China should be rightly commended for.  But at this stage, to limit global warming to the U.N. target of 2º Celsius, the world community needs to push China to agree to carbon emissions targets.

Obama Adverse to China Being Defined as a Developing Nation?
Central to the requirement of carbon targets is the definition of “developing nation” and this was perhaps the greatest divide between the U.S. and China, and could possibly stall progress in Copenhagen.

For purposes of climate change negotiations, China has repeatedly portrayed itself as a developing country.  In his speech on Tuesday, President Hu dedicated around two-thirds of it to discussing the special circumstances of developing countries, implying that China is one such nation.

Under the previous international climate change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, China was defined as a developing nation.  China is keen to keep this definition in Copenhagen for two reasons: (1) emission targets are not applicable to developing nations, and (2) developing nations can avail themselves of financial and technical aid provided by developed nations.

It is the second reason that appears to be more important to the Chinese.  In prior climate change negotiation simulations that global power participate in as practice for Copenhagen, the Chinese representatives do not budge unless there is an offer of technical or financial assistance from other countries like the U.S. or the E.U.  President Hu’s speech reiterated the importance of such assistance to the Chinese: “developed countries should take up their responsibility and provide new, additional, adequate and predictable financial support to developing countries…”

President Obama wholeheartedly agreed with President Hu’s sentiment to assist developing nations.  However, he

President Barack Obama before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

President Barack Obama before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

appeared to disagree with President Hu that China is such a country.  In his speech before the U.N., President Obama put China and the U.S. on the same level in assisting developing countries: “These [developing] nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do…” (emphasis added).

This division between the two countries regarding the developmental status of China could do one of two things: (a) completely derail any agreement in Copenhagen that includes both the U.S. and China, or (b) provide the compromise necessary to have the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases agree to a climate change agreement.  U.S. policy makers should look to the latter.  Agreeing to provide financial and technical assistance to China might just be the push necessary to get it to agree to carbon emission targets, a necessary goal to limit global climate change.

For a transcript of President Barack Obama’s address to the U.N., click here.

For a transcript of President Hu Jintao’s address to the U.N., click here.

What’s Going on in Europe: Sarkozy Calls for Carbon Tariffs on Imports

By , September 11, 2009
France's President, Nicolas Sarkozy

France's President, Nicolas Sarkozy

Does France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy read China Law & PolicySure looks that way.  In an effort to promote carbon caps domestically, Sarkozy also called for any international climate change agreement to include a carbon tax on imports into Europe from countries that do not impose carbon emission caps.

In response, many economists argued that Sarkozy’s push for a carbon tax on imports could lead to alienating China from agreeing to any sort of emission caps in Copenhagen.  This is the same criticism lodged against the tariff provisions in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Climate Change Bill.

There is a real risk that these economists are right; China will begin to feel bullied and, for its domestic audience’s consumption, walk away from an international climate change agreement.  Although the Chinese government enjoys one-party rule in an authoritarian state, it is still susceptible to domestic public opinion, especially given the fact that nationalism runs very high.

But at least our European allies realize that any international agreement is a give and take; there are carrots and sticks.  On the same day that Sarkozy called for carbon tariffs, the European Union’s (E.U.) environment chief, Stavros Dimas, announced that the European Commission would pledge $3 billion per year to developing countries, including China, to assist with capping emissions and developing clean technologies.

A key issue for China in its lead up to Copenhagen has been financial and technological assistance from developed countries in implementing carbon emission caps or clean technology.  China has repeatedly stated that they will not be able to meet the requirements of an international treaty unless there is assistance from developed countries.

The E.U.’s pledge is the carrot in this situation.  It is agreeing to a term that China has said is necessary for it to consent to any international climate change treaty.   So even in light of Sarkozy’s call for carbon tariffs, the Chinese government can turn to its people and show that it was not bullied.  Instead, China received the one element that it considered indispensible.

The U.S. unfortunately has only been providing sticks.  There is evidence that the tariff provisions provide some leverage against a country like China, but without providing some sort of bargaining chip, China will likely not respond positively to the U.S.’ hard-line tariff provisions.  Instead, the U.S. should learn for the E.U. and look to see where it can find common ground with China.  Without this common ground, it starts to look a lot like bullying.

Panorama Theme by Themocracy

%d bloggers like this: