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China's Strategic Priorities in International Climate Change Negotiations

Winter 2007-08

By Joanna Lewis, Senior International Fellow

Originally appeared in The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2007-08


China's role in an international climate change solution cannot be overstated. Now likely the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China has become the focus of scrutiny as climate change has become ever more important as a global issue. Increased international attention to the issue is reflected in China's domestic policy circles as well, primarily through institutional restructuring aimed at better government coordination on climate-related policy activities. China released its first national climate change plan this year, composed of measures being taken across the economy that may help slow China's greenhouse gas emissions growth.

Yet, China faces substantial challenges in mitigating its increasing contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, which will require a much higher level of effort than what may be achieved by measures already in place. Understanding the nature of these challenges in the Chinese context helps to clarify China's negotiating position in international forums and can provide insights into how the international community might best engage China to address global climate change.1


Competing Priorities

China's climate strategy remains centered on its energy development strategy as driven by its overall economic development goals. Although attention to climate change has recently increased among China's leadership, climate change has not surpassed economic development as a policy priority. The Chinese [End Page 155] leadership has shown the ability to adapt to or resist both internal and external changes and pressures over time.

Yet, the causes of climate change, namely greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and land use, are inherently linked to economic development in the Chinese context. Continued growth in the prosperity of the population is viewed as fundamental to maintaining political stability, and progress to date in this regard has been impressive. China's economic growth over the past two decades, marked by a quadrupling in its gross domestic product (GDP) from 1980 to 2000, has been credited with pulling roughly 50 million people out of poverty.2

The relationship between economic growth and energy utilization matters greatly not only from an emissions perspective, but from an energy security perspective as well. Although China quadrupled its GDP between 1980 and 2000, it did so while merely doubling the amount of energy it consumed over that period, marking a dramatic achievement in energy-intensity gains not paralleled in any other country at a similar stage of industrialization. This allowed China's energy intensity (ratio of energy consumption to GDP) and consequently the emissions intensity (ratio of carbon dioxide [CO2]–equivalent emissions to GDP) of its economy to decline (see figure 1). Without this reduction in the energy intensity of the economy, China would have used more than three times the energy that it did during this period.

Between 2002 and 2005, however, this trend reversed, and energy growth surpassed economic growth for the first time in decades. This reversal has had dramatic emissions implications, with China's greenhouse gas emissions growing very rapidly since 2002. Although official data for 2006 are not yet available, estimates show that emissions from energy use are up 9 percent from the previous year, which would make China the largest emitter on an annual basis, surpassing U.S. emissions that year by 8 percent.3 In 2006, global carbon emissions from fossil fuel use increased by about 2.6 percent, driven by a 4.5 percent increase in global coal consumption, of which China contributed more than 66 percent.4 Currently, China emits 35 percent more CO2 per dollar of output than the United States and 100 percent more than the European Union. China's increase in energy-related emissions in the past few years has been driven primarily by industrial energy use, fueled by an increased percentage of coal in the overall fuel mix. Industry consumes about 70 percent of China's energy, and China's industrial base supplies much of the world. For example, China today produces 35 percent of the world's steel and 28 percent of aluminum, up from 12 percent and 8 percent, respectively, a decade ago.5 [End Page 156]

China relies on coal for more than two-thirds of its energy needs, including approximately 80 percent of its electricity needs. Currently, more coal power plants are installed in China than in the United States and India combined. China's coal power use is expected to more than double by 2030, representing an additional carbon commitment of about 86 billion tons.6 Although China is also expanding its utilization of nuclear power and nonhydroelectric renewables, these sources comprise 2 percent and 0.7 percent of China's electricity generation, respectively, whereas hydroelectricity contributes about 16 percent.7

China's overall economic development statistics reveal that, despite the emergence of modern cities and a growing middle class, China is still largely a developing country. Although rapid economic growth has made China the fourth-largest economy in the world, its GDP per capita is still below the world average. More than one-half of China's population lives in rural areas where GDP per capita lags that of urban areas. The gap between the best available technologies worldwide and what exists in China is still large, although advanced energy technology is increasingly available and in many cases being developed indigenously. China's per capita greenhouse gas emissions are below the world average and almost one-fifth those of the United States. [End Page 157]

All of these factors shape the climate challenge faced by China's leadership. It is increasingly difficult for China to rein in its greenhouse gas emissions growth as investment surges continue in heavy industry. Changing China's emissions trajectory will require either a substantial shift away from coal or massive investments in capturing the CO2 emissions from coal-based energy sources. Simultaneously, China must increase the efficiency with which it uses energy resources to minimize the environmental impacts of meeting the further economic development needs of its population.


Climate Action in China

Although the goal of "building a resource-efficient and environment-friendly society" is prominent in China's current five-year plan, many obstacles must be overcome before achieving it. These challenges shape the way China is approaching climate mitigation at the domestic level, as well as its position in international negotiations.

A look at the Chinese institutions that have been responsible for climate change policy is one way to understand how the government has approached this issue over time. Starting in the 1980s, China treated climate change as a scientific issue and gave the State Meteorological Administration the responsibility of advising the government on policy options in international negotiations surrounding the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

As political awareness and sensitivity surrounding climate change increased in the late 1990s, this role shifted to the more powerful State Development and Planning Commission, which has since evolved into the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The move indicated a shift in the relative value given to the issue, as well as perhaps a shift in perspective from a scientific issue to predominantly a development issue.8

The NDRC also serves as the primary energy policy decisionmaking authority in China, and this move may have reflected the clear need for climate priorities to be coordinated better with energy decisions. It is now home to the National Coordination Committee on Climate Change, which oversees climate activities within the NDRC, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). Today, the NDRC and the Foreign Ministry are responsible for formulating China's international negotiation positions.

Further institutional change came recently with the release of China's national climate change plan in June 2007, announcing a high-level leading group on climate change chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao and reporting to the State Council. Subsequently, the Foreign Ministry announced that it had also established [End Page 158] a leading group in charge of international work on climate change, headed by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. Then in early September, Ambassador Yu Qingtai was appointed to be China's new special representative of the Foreign Ministry for climate change negotiations. The role of this new special representative is to help implement China's domestic action plan to respond to climate change and to demonstrate "the government's active participation in international cooperation on responding to climate change."9

The establishment of these two high-level leading groups and the appointment of a special representative on climate change in 2007 are positive signs that the Chinese leadership is focusing new attention on the issue. It is also apparent that leading Chinese research organizations that often provide analytical input to shape government policy decisions are scaling up their work in this area.10

The government released its first "National Assessment Report on Climate Change" in late 2006, conducted as a collaborative effort among more than 20 government departments and taking four years to complete.11 Structured similarly to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, the Chinese assessment consists of three parts: climate change history and trends, impacts and adaptation, and mitigation and socioeconomic evaluation.

Subsequently, China released its much anticipated National Climate Change Program report on June 4, 2007.12 Referred to as China's climate change plan, the report has provided a comprehensive synthesis of the policies that China currently has in place that are serving to moderate its greenhouse gas emissions growth and to help the country adapt to climate impacts. The majority of the policies and programs mentioned in the plan are not climate change policies per se, but policies implemented throughout the economy, particularly in the energy sector, that have the effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these policies have been enacted to help the country meet its broader economic development strategies and, if implemented effectively, will also serve as policies to mitigate China's greenhouse gas emissions. Three of these key policy areas are energy efficiency, renewable energy, and industrial policy.


Energy Efficiency

With the hope of achieving energy intensity improvements between 2000 and 2020 similar to what it had done the previous two decades, China has a broad [End Page 159] national goal of quadrupling economic growth while doubling energy consumption.13 Beijing's eleventh five-year plan includes a near-term goal of reducing national energy intensity 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2010. Implementation of such centrally administered government targets has proven challenging, particularly at the local level. In an attempt to improve local accountability, the NDRC is allocating the target among provinces and industrial sectors, and energy efficiency improvement is now among the criteria used to evaluate the job performance of local officials. These elevated implementation efforts appear to be having some impact. Following increases in energy intensity each year from 2003 to 2005, the trend was reversed in 2006, although the intensity decline achieved was short of the goal for that year.14

Supplementary programs have been established to encourage specific actors to help meet this national intensity goal, including a program established in 2006 to improve energy efficiency in China's largest enterprises.15 Another government effort targets the elimination of a number of small, inefficient power plants, totaling around 8 percent of China's generating capacity, by 2010. Similar plant closings are planned across the industrial sector, including inefficient cement, aluminum, ferroalloy, coking, calcium carbide, and steel plants.16

In addition, the 1997 Energy Conservation Law initiated a range of programs to increase energy efficiency in buildings, industry, and consumer goods. China has efficiency standards and labeling programs in place for many key energy-consuming appliances and is adopting energy standards for buildings in regions with high heating and cooling demands. In the transport sector, China's fuel economy standards for its rapidly growing passenger vehicle fleet are more stringent than those in Australia, Canada, and the United States, although less stringent than those in the EU and Japan, and the average fuel economy of new vehicles is projected to reach 36.7 miles per gallon in 2008.17


Renewable Energy

Under the National Renewable Energy Law adopted in 2005, China has set a target of producing 16 percent of its primary energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from about 7 percent at present. For the electricity sector, the target is 20 percent of the capacity from renewables by 2020, which will require substantial increases in the use of wind power, biomass power, solar power, and [End Page 160] hydropower. This law offers financial incentives, such as a national fund to foster renewable energy development and discounted lending and tax preferences for renewable energy projects. Although increases in wind power in particular have been impressive in recent years, this energy source is still dwarfed by large-scale hydropower. Hydropower capacity is projected to more than double by 2020, requiring the equivalent of a new dam the size of the Three Gorges Project every two years.

Policies to promote renewable energy also include mandates and incentives to support the development of domestic technologies and industries, for instance, by requiring the use of domestically manufactured components. Spurred by a requirement that newly installed wind turbines contain 70 percent local content, Chinese manufacturers are now producing about 40 percent of the wind turbines being sold in China and 3 percent of the wind turbines being sold globally. Tax and other incentives have targeted the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry, stimulating a sixfold growth in PV production from 2004 to 2005. A recent market study estimates that the Chinese PV industry will dominate the global market within five years; China is currently the third-largest producer of solar PVs for the global market.18


Industrial Policies

The recent surge in energy consumption by heavy industry in China has caused the government to implement measures to discourage growth in energy-intensive industries compared with sectors that are less energy intensive. In November 2006, the Ministry of Finance increased export taxes on energy-intensive industries. This includes a 15 percent export tax on copper, nickel, aluminum, and other metals; a 10 percent tax on steel primary products; and a 5 percent tax on petroleum, coal, and coke. Simultaneously, import tariffs on 26 energy and resource products, including coal, petroleum, aluminum, and other mineral resources, will be cut from their current levels of 3–6 percent to 0–3 percent.19 Whereas the increased export tariffs are meant to discourage relocation of energy-intensive industries to China for export markets, the reduced import tariffs are meant to promote the utilization of energy-intensive products produced elsewhere.


Framing China's Negotiating Position

China's position in the international climate negotiations has rarely deviated from the rest of the developing world, as collectively articulated by the Group of 77 (G-77), a group of 130 (formerly 77) developing countries. Recently, the financial incentives for emissions reductions provided by the Kyoto Protocol's [End Page 161] Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has also helped shape China's views on the international climate regime.


G-77 Solidarity

Developing-country solidarity has been used as a strategy since the early days to influence climate change negotiations, despite the growing economic differentiation and often disparate climate policy interests within the developing world. Aware of their limited weight of acting in isolation, developing countries attempt to build common positions in the framework of the G-77,20 the largest intergovernmental organization of developing states in the United Nations. The G-77 provides a means for these countries to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity on all major issues within the UN system.

China has historically associated itself with the G-77 despite not having the problem of limited weight in acting alone. Rather than acting alone, it can use the G-77 block as protection against being singled out. As the largest developing-country emitter, this concern is certainly rational. Yet, its size allows it to take a leadership role in formulating the positions of the G-77. China has a hand in crafting its position while ensuring that a large contingent of countries will stand at its side when it is presented before the world. The consistent position of the G-77 has been to emphasize the historical responsibility that the industrialized world brings to the climate change problem and the disparity between per capita emissions that persists between the developed and developing world, resisting any commitments to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions.

In recent years, China's alliance with the G-77 has not waned. In fact, its willingness to step out of the pack has declined even further as its fear of being singled out grows due to increasing economic growth and energy use. In June 2005, then–SEPA director Xie Zhenhua, now a vice minister of the NDRC, stated that he hoped "that some countries would, according to the obligations which are provided for in the Kyoto Protocol, implement in a substantive way their obligations and take up their commitments" and that, "on the Chinese side, the Chinese government would make its own decision after making some assessments of the implementation by other countries."21 In this statement, Xie was signaling that China was waiting to see whether the developed countries would follow through on their UNFCCC obligations to lead them in taking on mitigation commitments. This position was reinforced recently by Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi, who said in September that developed countries should "continue to take the lead in reducing emissions after 2012."22

Despite the EU's willingness to commit to post-2012 emissions reduction targets, the absence of international commitments by the United States, the [End Page 162] world's largest industrialized-country emitter, provides the best excuse for China not to have to adopt commitments. Even as China's emissions surpass those of the United States on an annual basis, it will be decades before Chinese emissions surpass U.S. emissions on a cumulative basis, measured as historic contribution of emissions to the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for a century or more, so it is really the buildup of gases over time that is important from a scientific perspective. As previously mentioned, China's per capita greenhouse gas emissions would have to quintuple to equal those of the United States.

Consequently, if the United States were to take on credible international climate change commitments, China would face renewed pressure to revisit its delay tactics. Another key dynamic that could shift in the near term is the G-77 negotiating block. Countries within the G-77 are beginning to diverge somewhat in their positions, which could leave China in a more isolated negotiating position. Some tropical forest countries, including Brazil and a coalition of 32 rain forest countries including Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea, have stated a willingness to take on voluntary avoided-deforestation targets in return for compensation.23 Historically, voluntary international targets of any form have not been part of the G-77 position.


Capitalizing on the Clean Development Mechanism

{C}{C}China has ratified the primary international accords on climate change—the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol—but as a developing country, China has no binding emissions limits under either accord. It is, however, an active participant in the CDM established under the protocol, which grants emissions credits for verified reductions in developing countries, which can be used by developing countries toward meeting their Kyoto targets. The Kyoto Protocol requires developing countries to implement measures to mitigate climate change as is feasible for them, "in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities."24

The Chinese government has historically approached the CDM somewhat more cautiously and has taken a more involved role in the project approval process than other developing countries, getting China off to a relatively late start in the carbon market. Although CDM projects became eligible for crediting in 2000 (five years before the Kyoto Protocol entered into force), China did not ratify the treaty until August 2002, its designated national authority [End Page 163] overseeing CDM projects was not established until June 2004, and the State Council did not adopt rules for the management of CDM projects until October 2005.25

China has been consistent in its position that, as a developing country, it will not take on any binding international commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Some of China's hesitance to make international commitments stems from reasonable concerns about energy data quality and transparency. In developing countries, where resource constraints result in limited data quality, inventories of national greenhouse gas emissions are notoriously inexact.26 Having in place a national emissions inventory system will likely be a crucial step in enabling the adoption and enforcement of any binding emissions reduction policies, whether enacted nationally or internationally.

Another reason for China's hesitance stems from broader concerns about the role of international actors in China. China was initially skeptical about the introduction of the Kyoto mechanisms under the UNFCCC, not only viewing the CDM as a way for developed countries to avoid their own responsibilities to reduce emissions but also expressing concern about the potential for foreign exploitation of rights to ownership of emissions credits.27 China has long had protectionist tendencies and resisted foreign involvement in various sectors and activities, particularly industries deemed to have an impact on national economic security.28 Recent examples include reported preferences for locally manufactured products and differential treatment given to foreign competitors in industrial sectors throughout the economy.29

Such policies exist in many sectors, including several in low-carbon energy technology. For example, all wind turbines erected are subject to a 70 percent local content requirement, a policy which discourages the sale of foreign wind turbines not sourced in China.30 Many of these policies are in place to encourage technology transfer in the form of licensing intellectual property rights by foreign companies to Chinese companies. Expectations of such transfers, however, are rarely met without additional incentives. For example, GE transferred its 9FA gas turbine combined-cycle technology to a Chinese company via a majority-owned joint venture, in return for a $900 million contract to sell these turbines in China.31 Despite enduring restrictions on foreign investment and ownership, calls for international technology transfer from Chinese officials are consistent, in and out of the climate and energy context.

China's position toward the CDM has changed dramatically in recent years, however, as China has begun to realize the economic and political benefits [End Page 164] that the CDM could provide. The CDM has become a vehicle for China to help stimulate investment in projects that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to help cover the incremental cost of higher-efficiency or low-carbon technology. Another benefit of China's leadership in the CDM is that it provides a way in which China can be viewed internationally as being proactive on the climate issue. Now the world leader in terms of CDM-induced greenhouse gas reduction credits in the CDM pipeline, China has learned how to use the CDM to its advantage.

Concerns about foreign involvement in Chinese efforts have not waned. These rules governing the CDM in China are viewed as "carefully crafted … to heavily favor Chinese interests and control, and to ensure Chinese 'resources' are protected" and have become a cause for complaint by many potential foreign investors, particularly the stipulation that only majority-owned Chinese enterprises may serve as project owners.32

Despite these restrictions and complaints, China has emerged as the leading CDM host country, with about 1.2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent credits scheduled to be issued by the end of the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period in 2012.33 This means that 52 percent of total emissions reductions under the CDM are taking place in China. At a price of $10 per ton, sales of the 1.2 billion tons of reductions currently in the pipeline would represent a total investment in China of about $12 billion.


Options to Advance International Negotiations

A central challenge in addressing global climate change will be arriving at multilateral arrangements that include adequate effort by all major economies to moderate and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The multilateral climate effort to date has relied on a particular form of emissions commitment: economy-wide emissions limits. Such limits for developed countries were voluntary within the UNFCCC and later binding under the Kyoto Protocol. Developing countries have historically resisted economy-wide emissions limits, however, and will likely continue to do so in any discussion or negotiation of the post-2012 climate effort. Consequently, there is a need to explore alternative approaches to engage large developing countries, such as China, in real mitigation activities in the forthcoming climate change negotiations.

For China to increase its international commitment to climate change action, its overarching concerns will need to be addressed. These include, because of its reliance on coal, the large incremental cost it faces in moving toward higher-efficiency coal technology and in capturing the emissions from these plants; concerns about energy data quality and transparency that are at the root of its hesitancy to commit to quantifiable targets; and current limitations [End Page 165] on the use of foreign investment and foreign technology to achieve its domestic development goals. Recognizing the unique challenges that China faces in addressing climate change can inform what it will be willing and able to undertake within a multilateral climate agreement. In the Chinese context, it may make sense to examine intensity targets, sectoral agreements, and policy commitments and crediting. Targeted international assistance will also be an important component of any international climate agreement.


Intensity versus Absolute Targets

Developing countries, including China, view absolute greenhouse gas targets, such as those under the Kyoto Protocol, as a cap on their economic growth. Intensity-based targets, whether measured as energy intensity or greenhouse gas intensity, are based on a ratio of the amount of energy or greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic output. Because such a target is inherently indexed to the economic growth of a country, meeting this target does not directly require a decrease in economic production to meet it. This type of target is therefore more palatable to developing countries that oppose caps on their economic growth on equity principles. Meeting this target requires countries to understand the core drivers of their emissions within their economy, while incentivizing more efficient energy consumption and eventually decoupling energy use from economic growth.

The main limitation of an intensity-based target is that, although it can lower an emissions growth trajectory below the projected business-as-usual level, it is unlikely to result in an absolute decrease in emissions. Given a constant structural mix, energy intensity declines naturally with economic growth even while absolute energy consumption continues to increase.34 While the intensity of China's carbon emissions (ratio of energy-related CO2 emissions to GDP) declined 67 percent between 1980 and 2000, its absolute emissions increased by 126 percent over this period.35 Yet, if China's emissions intensity had remained fixed where it was in 1980, its emissions would be more than double what they are today.


Sectoral versus National Focus

Uncertainty is associated with all estimates of emissions reduction, particularly in many developing countries in which the accuracy of national greenhouse gas emissions inventories are often constrained by limited capacity for data collection and estimation. The uncertainty associated with national inventories makes it very difficult to implement greenhouse gas reduction commitments that rely on baseline inventories and aggregated annual improvements [End Page 166] at the national level. More exact estimates can be achieved, however, when estimating emissions from a smaller number of sources, such as within a sector where the sources of emissions are known and well documented. Consequently, understanding emissions sources within a particular sector could form the basis for targeted mitigation efforts within that sector, even in the absence of a broader understanding of emissions sources and trends.

Sectoral agreements have been proposed as a way of structuring multilateral commitments to adopt targets or standards around one or more sectors, possibly including developed and developing countries, potentially in concert with other commitment types, such as economy-wide targets. International sectoral agreements could provide a means of coordinating key industrial producers to develop climate change goals and a forum for sharing best practices and technological innovations. Reduction targets or efficiency standards agreed among countries at the sectoral level could target mitigation efforts toward key greenhouse gas–generating activities and help to prevent competitive imbalances, particularly in energy-intensive industries that trade globally.36 China plays an important role in many such industries. Globally, China now accounts for 48 percent of cement production, 49 percent of flat glass production, 35 percent of steel production, and 28 percent of aluminum production.37

A major challenge to implementing sectoral agreements is integrating developing countries, which typically use less efficient technology and thus will bear a higher cost in meeting any sector-wide standards. In addition, if some sectors are targeted for mitigation while others are left unregulated, there may be an incentive for emissions to "leak" from one sector to another to the extent cross-sectoral substitutions are feasible.


Policy Commitments versus Project Activities

Currently, 820 discrete CDM projects have been proposed in China that, if approved and implemented, could amount to 1.2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent emissions reductions by 2012.38 Yet, China's single national target to achieve a 20 percent reduction in energy intensity by 2010 could reduce its emissions by about 1.5 billion tons. Consequently, this policy and others in China, such as those articulated in China's national climate change plan, could form the basis of policy-based commitments made under the UNFCCC. Such commitments could achieve more emissions reductions in the developing world than project-based [End Page 167] crediting mechanisms, such as the CDM, and potentially reduce the transactions costs associated with project-by-project verification. Policy commitments as part of a multilateral climate agreement could allow developing countries to identify ways that emissions mitigation fits or advances national priorities, such as economic growth, energy security, and public health, and would help to achieve broad participation in an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.39 The stringency of policy-based commitments could evolve over time, perhaps beginning as voluntary actions reported internationally in fulfillment of existing UNFCCC commitments and then be taken as new commitments negotiated as part of a broader post-2012 agreement.40

The World Bank, in developing its Investment Framework for Clean Energy and Development, concluded that an expanded carbon market backed by a global climate policy framework would be a principal source of finance for substantially decarbonizing electricity generation in the developing world.41 In a post-2012 framework that includes new emissions targets for developed countries, the strongest incentive for developing countries to take on policy commitments may then be the prospect of generating marketable emissions credits. Crediting as now structured under the CDM is on a project-by-project basis. If a future framework were to incorporate policy commitments, allowing crediting on the basis of those commitments could channel investment to industry- or sector-wide strategies that could deliver reductions on a far broader scale.42 Yet, policy-based crediting would face the same fundamental issues that arise in project-based crediting: how to establish that actions to be credited are additional, not business as usual, and how to verify actual emissions reductions.43


International Assistance

An important part of any multilateral climate deal will likely include a commitment from developed countries to increase developing country access to advanced technologies and to provide incentives and financial assistance for their mitigation and adaptation activities. China's own climate change plan has clearly identified its priority areas for international collaboration to include cooperation on advanced coal technologies, energy-efficient building technologies, clean vehicle technology, and advanced industrial technologies. China has placed a particularly heavy emphasis on technology transfer in international climate negotiations, most recently proposing the establishment [End Page 168] of a Technology Development and Transfer Board to oversee and implement technology transfer–related activities, as well as a Multilateral Technology Acquisition Fund to support the "development, deployment, diffusion and transfer of technologies to developing countries, through, inter alia, the buying out of intellectual property rights."44

Increased attention to developing these technologies and increased experience deploying them is important not only for China but also for the rest of the world. The United States and China in particular share a common interest in determining a way to continue their reliance on coal while moving toward more efficient coal-combustion and gasification technologies and capturing and storing the emissions from coal power plants. Increased bilateral assistance in this area can complement and even facilitate multilateral climate negotiations.


Engaging China on Climate

China will face increasing international pressure in the coming months to devote more attention to climate change, both due to its emergence as the largest global emitter and as international attention to climate change is elevated by government leaders and heads of state in high-profile forums around the world. A series of such discussions on climate change have already been held in 2007, including the June Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm; the August UN intersessional in Vienna; the September Gleneagles Dialogue in Berlin; the September Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney; and the UN secretary-general's high-level climate summit in New York, preceding the General Assembly in late September, followed later that week by the major economies summit hosted by the U.S. government. This year's meetings culminate in December when ministers and delegates will be joined by stakeholders from around the world for the thirteenth Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 13) and the third Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Bali, Indonesia.

The primary objective of most countries attending the Bali meeting, as has been discussed at these preceding sessions, is to establish a road map for the forthcoming negotiations of the agreement that will follow the Kyoto Protocol, whose current commitment period ends in 2012. Several governments have articulated that, to maintain progress toward meeting needed global emissions reductions and to maintain a steady global carbon market, a decision on a future framework will need to be reached by COP 15, set for 2009 in Copenhagen.45 At the moment, such an agreement hinges on increased engagement from the United States; increased action from the major developing economies, particularly China; and a new climate framework that allows for [End Page 169] different forms of commitments to be taken by different countries. Although it is impossible to predict what a dynamic country such as China will eventually deem to be an acceptable form of international climate action, many of the options discussed above are very likely being explored and evaluated by all of the major economies.

China must play a central role in any global solution to address climate change. Yet, it is also home to 1.3 billion inhabitants that desire the modern energy services and consumption habits enjoyed by much of the developed world. Recent institutional changes and renewed attention to implementing aggressive energy efficiency policies demonstrate the Chinese government's increasing awareness of the problems posed by climate change and its interest in altering China's current energy development trajectory.

Many actors throughout China, in and out of government, have a strong desire to achieve international standards, be they for free trade or intellectual property rights protection, which lend legitimacy to often-strained central government implementation of mandates at the local level. In addition, China's economic development is increasingly dependent on the global integration of its energy system, such that it cannot allow itself to become technologically or institutionally isolated on the climate issue.46 Yet, the government will not likely be able to significantly alter its current energy development trajectory without meaningful international engagement during the next one to two decades, a period during which China's energy infrastructure investment decisions will have direct implications for the future stability of the global climate system.

There is new urgency, as well as opportunity, for each of the major economies to jointly examine and address linkages among their own economic development, their energy security, and their role in global climate change. Effective engagement with Beijing will only be possible if the major emitting developed countries lead by example, and serious U.S. engagement will likely be a precondition to China's engagement in any international climate effort. Meanwhile, understanding the challenges that China faces in reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions in the years ahead, particularly in decarbonizing its energy sector, is the first step to engaging China on climate cooperation.


1. See Joanna I. Lewis, Michael B. Cummings, and Jeffrey Logan, "Understanding the Climate Challenge in China," in Climate Change Science and Policy, eds. Steven H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz, and Michael Mastrandrea (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, forthcoming); Joanna Lewis, "China's Climate Change Strategy," China Brief 7, no. 13 (June 2007): 9–13; Joanna Lewis, "Climate Change Mitigation Measures in the People's Republic of China," International Brief, no. 1 (April 2007). [End Page 170]

2. "World Bank Says China Is Poverty Reduction Model," Xinhua, February 25, 2003,

3. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP), "China Now No. 1 in CO2 Emissions; USA in Second Position," June 2007,

4. Ibid.

5. Trevor Houser, "China's Energy Consumption and Opportunities for U.S.-China Cooperation to Address the Effects of China's Energy Use," statement before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 14, 2007,

6. Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. Department of Energy, "International Energy Outlook 2007," May 2007, chap. 5,

7. China Energy Statistical Yearbook 2006 (Beijing: China Statistics Press, 2007); REN21, "Renewables Global Status Report 2006 Update," 2006,

8. Guri Bang, Gorild Heggelund, and Jonas Vevatne, "Shifting Strategies in the Global Climate Negotiations," CICERO Report, no. 2005:08 (November 2005),

9. "Chinese Foreign Ministry Sets Up Climate Change Int'l Working Group," Xinhua, September 5, 2007,

10. "CAS Outlines Strategic Plan for China's Energy Development Over Next 40 Years," Xinhua, September 24, 2007,

11. Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, "National Assessment Report on Climate Change Released," December 31, 2006,

12. Chinese National Development and Reform Commission, "China's National Climate Change Programme," June 2007,; Chris Buckley, "Exclusive: China Preparing National Plan for Climate Change," Reuters, February 6, 2007,; Richard McGregor, "China Delays Climate Change Plan Indefinitely," Financial Times, April 23, 2007,

13. Chinese Development Research Center of the State Council, "Overview of the National Energy Strategy," May 2005, p. 11,

14. "Nation Unlikely to Meet Energy Efficiency Goal," China Daily, December 18, 2006,; "Zhongguo jinnian mei you tichu nian du jieneng mubiao" [China fails to meet this year's energy saving targets],, March 5, 2007,


15. Lynn Price and Xuejun Wang, "Constraining Energy Consumption of China's Largest Industrial Enterprises Through Top-1000 Energy-Consuming Enterprise Program," Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, June 2007,


16. "China to Require Swap of Old Coal Plants for New," Reuters, February 1, 2007,; "China Orders Small Cement Plants to Be Closed." Reuters, March 2, 2007, [End Page 171]; Benjamin Kang Lim and Lucy Hornby, "China to Shut Old Steel, Power Plants in 2007 – Wen," Reuters, March 5, 2007,


17. An Feng and Amanda Sauer, "Comparison of Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy and GHG Emission Standards Around the World," Pew Center on Global Climate Change, December 2004.


18. "International Solar Energy Trade Mission to China Will Meet With Market Leaders of Chinese PV Industry," Solarplaza, March 7, 2006,


19. Yu Wang, "Tariffs to Reduce Energy Consumption," China Daily, October 31, 2006,


20. Sebastian Oberthur and Hermann E. Ott, The Kyoto Protocol: International Climate Policy for the 21st Century (Berlin: Springer, 1999), p. 24.


21. "China to Watch Others on Climate Change Action," Reuters, June 15, 2005,


22. P. Parameswaran, "Rich Nations Must Honor Climate Change Pledge: Developing Countries," Agence France-Presse, September 25, 2007,


23. See Coalition of Rainforest Nations,; "Reducing Emissions From Deforestation in Developing Countries: Approaches to Stimulate Action," January 30, 2007, (submission of views of 17 parties to the 11th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC]); Department of Environment and Special Affairs, Brazilian Ministry of External Relations, "Brazilian Perspective on Reducing Emissions From Deforestation," February 26, 2007,


24. UNFCCC, art. 3, principle 1,; see "Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change," art. 10,


25. Chinese Office of the National Coordination Committee on Climate Change, "Measures for Operation and Management of Clean Development Mechanism Projects in China," November 21, 2005,


26. U.S. General Accounting Office, "Selected Nations' Reports on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Varied in Their Adherence to Standards," GAO-04-98, December 2003,; David G. Streets et al., "Recent Reductions in China's Greenhouse Gas Emissions," Science, November 30, 2001, pp. 1835–1837; Subodh Sharma, Sumana Bhattacharya, and Amit Garg, "Greenhouse Gas Emissions From India: A Perspective," Current Science, February 10, 2006,


27. Bang, Heggelund, and Vevatne, "Shifting Strategies in the Global Climate Negotiations."


28. Chinese Ministry of Commerce, "Measures Governing the Foreign Acquisition of Domestic Enterprises," August 8, 2006,


29. U.S.-China Business Council, "Foreign Investment in China," February 2007, [End Page 172]


30. Joanna I. Lewis and Ryan H. Wiser, "Fostering a Renewable Energy Technology Industry: An International Comparison of Wind Industry Policy Support Mechanisms," Energy Policy 35, no. 3 (March 2007): 1844–1857.


31. GE Energy, "GE Harbin Ship First 9FA Gas Turbine Assembled in China," July 30, 2004, (press release).


32. Tauna Szymanski, "China's Take on Climate Change," Sustainable Development, Ecosystems and Climate Change Committee Newsletter of the American Bar Association 9, no. 1 (May 2006): 2.


33. "UNEP Risoe CDM/JI Pipeline Analysis and Database," September 2007,


34. See Daniel H. Rosen and Trevor Houser, "China Energy: A Guide for the Perplexed," May 2007,


35. EIA, "International Energy Annual 2004,"; G. Marland, T. A. Boden, and R. J. Andres, "Global, Regional, and National Fossil Fuel CO2 Emissions," Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, 2007,


36. Daniel Bodansky, "International Sectoral Agreements in a Post-2012 Climate Framework" (working paper, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, May 2007).


37. Rosen and Houser, "China Energy."


38. IEA, "International Energy Outlook 2006," June 2006,; Office of Atmospheric Programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Global Anthropogenic Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions: 1990–2020," June 2006,


39. Harald Winkler et al., "Sustainable Development Policies and Measures: Starting From Development to Tackle Climate Change," in Building on the Kyoto Protocol: Options for Protecting the Climate, ed. Kevin A. Baumert (Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2002), pp. 61–87,

{C}{C}40. Joanna Lewis and Elliot Diringer, "Policy-Based Commitments in a Post-2012 Climate Framework" (working paper, May 2007).

{C}{C}41. World Bank, "An Investment Framework for Clean Energy and Development: A Progress Report," September 1, 2006,

{C}{C}42. Joseluis Samaniego and Christiana Figueres, "Evolving to a Sector Based Clean Development Mechanism," in Building on the Kyoto Protocol: Options for Protecting the Climate, eds. Kevin A. Baumert et al. (Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2002),; Thomas C. Heller and P. R. Shukla, "Development and Climate: Engaging Developing Countries," in Beyond Kyoto, Advancing the International Effort Against Climate Change, eds. J. E. Aldy et al. (Arlington, Va.: Pew Center on Global Climate Change, 2003).

{C}{C}43. See Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board, UNFCCC, "Tool for the Demonstration and Assessment of Additionality," EB 29, February 2007, [End Page 173] {C}{C}

44. Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, UNFCCC, "Development and Transfer of Technologies," FCCC/SBSTA/2006/L.27/Add.1, November 14, 2006,

{C}{C}45. James Kanter, "Before Summit, a Yawning Gap on Climate Change," International Herald Tribune, September 24, 2007,

{C}{C}46. Edward S. Steinfeld, testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing on "Climate Change—International Issues, Engaging Developing Countries," March 27, 2007,

by Joanna Lewis, Senior International Fellow— Appeared in The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2007-08
Joanna Lewis

Climate 2050: Technology and Policy Solutions Conference

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Climate 2050

Climate 2050: Technology and Policy Solutions

October 24 - 26, 2007
Montreal, Canada

The Pew Center is proud to partner with Institut Veolia Environnement and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy to host a unique event designed to explore technologies and policies that can deliver effective climate action over the coming half century.  For all engaged in the climate policy debate, Climate 2050 offers a timely, substantive look at the choices facing governments, businesses, and citizens in tackling the long-term climate challenge.

Please join us and and others from around the world for an innovative forum of speakers, panel discussions and workshops.

Download the conference flyer (pdf).

Visit the conference website at:
Please direct questions to:

InstitutVeolia Environment       Natl Round Table on the Env and Economy

Climate 2050 Pew Logo

A Cap's in Hand

Full article (PDF)

by Truman Semans, Director for Markets and Business Strategy--Appeared in the World Energy Book which is available from

7th IETA Forum on the State of the Greenhouse Gas Market



September 27, 2007  

Thank you very much.  I am honored to be a part of IETA’s very impressive program.  I was looking over the schedule for your three days here in Washington, and it’s really quite remarkable.  The program here, and the success of this event, is just one more tribute to Andrei’s leadership of this great organization—he has steered IETA to a leadership role on the climate issue, and I wish him all the best in his new position.   

Not only is the program very substantive and strong, but IETA seems to have a superior sense of timing, too.  This forum is taking place at a truly amazing moment— a blizzard of climate activity and meetings, a flood of proposals for domestic and international action, the melting away of industry resistance. Scientists say to expect more extreme weather as a result of climate change, and it appears it’s already here.   

And even though the China Olympics don’t start until next summer, we already have an Olympics competition going on as countries lay out their climate plans.    

  • Most countries, it appears, plan to compete in the biathlon – growing their economies while limiting emissions growth.
  • Then there is the synchronized swimming event, where the countries of the EU will try to align their climate activities without the whole thing turning into a freestyle contest. 
  • And the United States, under the current Administration, is favored in the stationary target-shooting event.  This, of course, is an event where you don’t really have to move from where you are now, but you make an awful lot of noise.  And, of course, participation is entirely voluntary.  We’ve actually become quite good at this here in America.   

Seriously, this is a remarkable moment.  Consider all of the other climate change-related events going on.  Of course, we had the Secretary General’s sessions at the United Nations in New York at the start of the week, and right now, also here in Washington, there is President Bush’s meeting of major economies.  In addition to these, there are all kinds of conferences and meetings: the Pew Center did two, the U.N. Foundation is doing one; the Brookings Institution did one.  And there is also the annual meeting in New York on the Clinton Global Initiative, which includes a very substantive track on energy and climate change.   

And, of course, these events follow fast on the heels of the Vienna climate change talks in August, and it is not long before the very important U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, where I hope we will see real progress toward an effective, post-2012 framework for international action.   

I mention all of these other events because things are heating up on this issue in more ways than one.  And progress, I believe, will depend on finding a way to bring people together and forge practical and effective climate solutions that can draw broad support.  This is what I call the “sensible center.” 

Now, I am sure all of you are familiar with Google maps.  This is where you go online and you get detailed directions by typing in a starting and an ending address.  Well, today, I’d like to borrow the Google maps approach and see if it can help us find our way to the sensible center, if it can provide some insights on how to get to the place where all of us (or at least most of us) want to go.  

So first we need a starting address—and that’s easy enough.  Let’s look at where things stand right now on this issue.  And that means starting where every conversation about climate change must begin: with the science.  All of us are familiar with the latest findings from the IPCC.  “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” they tell us.  They also talk about a 90-percent-or-greater chance that we (humanity) are the cause of this—and a 90-percent-or-greater chance that the world will see more hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events. 

Just last week, we learned that Arctic sea ice is now at its smallest recorded extent.  There is simply no denying any more that our climate is changing, and that human activities are largely to blame. 

But, despite the science, despite knowing we have a very serious problem on our hands, we continue to burn coal at an alarming rate—China alone is building a new coal-fired power plant every week to 10 days.  The world continues to consume 83 million barrels of oil per day.  Here in the United States, we continue to debate back-and-forth about how to address this issue as a nation—Should we do cap-and-trade?  Carbon tax?  Voluntary approaches only?  And, at the global level, we continue to wander about in this no-man’s land we’ve created between Kyoto’s short-term targets and what comes next.   

All of this is part of our starting address—where we are now as we consider how to get to the place where we ultimately want to go.  However, there are also signs of hope, signs of progress.  Here in the United States, for example, we see an increasing number of states taking independent action to establish targets, experiment with trading, and otherwise reduce their contribution to the climate problem.

  • California, as you all know, has an ambitious set of enforceable emission targets, and the state also is a part of the Western Climate Initiative, together with five other western states and the provinces of British Columbia and Manitoba, all are committed to agreeing on the design of a cap-and-trade program by next August.
  • The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, including 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, aims to get going in 2009.  Right now, the states are working on adopting the model rule and setting up auctioning and allocation.
  • And think of Florida’s ambitious program and the 25 states with renewable portfolio mandates.

At the same time that we see these states taking the initiative, we see members of Congress putting forward very serious proposals (with bipartisan support) aimed at limiting emissions at the national level.  We have had more than 120 hearings on climate change since January, and we have numerous bipartisan bills on the table and emerging.   We are clearly on our way here in the United States—and our journey is aided, in large part, by corporate leaders embracing climate policies that in the past would have been universally condemned by U.S. industry.   

So this is our starting address.  And it is honestly a mixed-bag kind of a place.  A place where we are not doing nearly enough to address this looming crisis, but where there are these signs of hope.  Which brings us to the next question: Where do we want to go from here?  What is our ending address? And our ending address, I believe, is a destination we all can agree on.  That place may not have an exact zip code or street number, but we can describe it in enough detail, I believe, to get a solid set of directions.   

It is a place where the United States and other major emitting countries are--each and every one of them--doing their part to protect the climate.  It is a place where the world is united in pursuing the goal of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was signed by the United States and 190 other nations—nearly every nation on this earth.  And that goal is to “avoid dangerous anthropogenic (or human-cased) interference with the climate system.” 

As I said, the interesting thing about this place we want to get to is that there is no real dispute about it.  It’s how to get there that’s in dispute.  The only thing I can compare it to is going on a trip with your family and agreeing that you want to get to, say, Florida but disagreeing on the best route to take to get there.  And so you have to go to that all-purpose, neutral resource, Google, to find out.  At the Pew Center, we like to think of ourselves as providing the Google map toward practical climate solutions (and this will be my only sponsored link!). 

So what would this Google map tell us about how to get to this place where we want to go, now that we have plugged in our starting and ending addresses?  Well, finding the best route is not an easy task because there are a lot of people throwing out different directions to a climate solution.  And, if we were to follow many of these directions, we would either veer way off course or, more likely, never reach our destination at all. 

These directions tend to fall into opposite extremes.  For example, some call for a mandatory, worldwide cap on greenhouse gas emissions with trading, where every major economy accepts a binding emissions target.  Sounds great but it’s a political non-starter. At the other extreme, many people want the world to join hands and unite around an “aspirational goal” – such as an X percent reduction in global emissions by 2050.  Don’t get me wrong: having an aspirational goal is not a bad thing.  But if aspiration is all you’ve got, well, all you’ve got is aspiration.  Under these proposals, no one is required to do much of anything.  We might all feel good for having this goal but the lack of clear commitments would result in more of the same: a little movement that barely brings us closer to where we need to go.     

The same opposing directions appear when the talk turns to emissions trading.  Some say let’s give away all the allowances; others say auction all of them.  Some say allow offsets for all projects that could conceivably reduce emissions.  Others say don’t give credit for any offsets.  

We know, based on Europe’s experience this past year, that we need a price on carbon that is high enough to give firms a reason to invest in new climate-friendly technologies.  Yet we see proposals that talk about limiting that price to something that will motivate very little innovation.  

Well, there’s another direction we can go—there is a route we can take that avoids all of these detours, and that takes us to our destination.  It involves taking what is useful from all of these highways and by-ways, making the necessary compromises, and following a route that lets us go as fast as we can, and as directly as we can.  For example, we can embrace an aspirational goal but we must back it up with international commitments that are binding but flexible.  And, we can design a cap-and-trade program based on a hard-nosed look at what will be both economically viable and environmentally effective.    

It’s not about aiming low, but rather about abandoning the impossible.     

FOR EXAMPLE: It’s great to talk about the potential of voluntary approaches to reduce emissions, but history has shown that while they do deliver something, they don’t deliver the level of reductions we need.  In the same way, it is pure fancy right now to expect developing countries to agree to binding limits on their emissions.  It actually makes things harder when we lay out these expectations, because when developing countries refuse to join in the global effort because of a perception that they are being asked to do too much, then we lose the United States and others as well. 

And so we need to look for the best route—both domestically and at the global level.  Here in the United States, this means pushing ahead with plans for a cap-and-trade system.  I know there has been some commentary recently about the relative merits of cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax.  But, once again, the thing we need to look at is what’s actually do-able, what gets us to the place we want to go, and what will actually pass?   

Anyone who thinks this Congress or the next will come close to passing a substantial new tax (even if it is offset by other tax reductions and even if it is designed to achieve the very important goal of reducing U.S. emissions) … well, I have some 20-year-old carbon offsets to sell you.  What’s more, the notion that designing a carbon tax is somehow simpler than designing a cap-and-trade program is simply not true.  It’s just as complex.  Plus, to top it all off, there is no environmental certainty in a tax – you enact it, and you have to wait and see what the effect will be, and you need to adjust it and keep adjusting it to get the effect you want. 

With cap-and-trade, there’s certainty in what the cap will be—and, as a result, you know how much of a reduction in emissions you can expect.   

What are the chances of cap-and-trade legislation passing the Congress?  Well, I will tell you one thing.  The chances improved in a big way when companies such as GE, Caterpillar, Chrysler, Duke, and DuPont all became part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership.  The USCAP plan would reduce U.S. emissions by 10 to 30 percent within 15 years, and by 60 to 80 percent before 2050.  And, with a whole host of America’s leading companies behind it, I believe USCAP has been, and will continue to be, a significant game-changer.  In fact, I feel confident that I can predict here today that enactment of a cap-and-trade measure is still plausible in 2008, and almost inevitable by the end of 2010.  

Looking internationally, we see the same need for cool-headed, practical answers to the climate problem.  The same need to find the sensible center.   Looking at things in this way, we can see that the post-Kyoto framework must have two essential features.  First, it must be based on binding international commitments; and second, it must be flexible in the sense that countries should be able to take on different types of commitments. 

Why commitments?  Because it’s the best and maybe the only way to deliver the level of effort needed to significantly reduce global emissions.  Without commitments, countries can’t be confident that others are contributing their fair share to the global effort.  And without that confidence, it’s hard for any one country to sustain an ambitious climate effort.  

Why different kinds of commitments?  Because countries are different – very different.  Among the major economies, you have developed countries, developing countries, and economies in transition.  Their per capita emissions range by a factor of 14; their per capita incomes by a factor of 18.  The kinds of policies that work for some won’t work for others.  It’s not one-size-fits-all.   

So the post-2012 framework has to integrate different approaches.  Binding emissions targets make sense for developed countries.  But, as I said, it’s naïve to think that China, India, and the other emerging economies are going to agree to them anytime soon.  Still, we need some form of commitment from those countries, so we have to be open to other possibilities.  One possibility is policy-based commitments.  A country like China, for instance, already has some ambitious national policies: an energy intensity goal, renewable energy targets, and fuel economy standards for cars that are stronger than those here in the U.S.  What if China were to commit to fully implementing those policies in a binding international treaty?  What’s key, I think, is that the commitment be credible, quantifiable, and verifiable.   

This, again, is the sensible center … we need a new set of multilateral commitments.  New kinds of commitments.  Which brings us to the other major climate meeting here in Washington this week – the major economies meeting.  What are we to make of it?   

Well, one thing to be said for it is that it brings together the right group of countries.  But what’s the real objective here?  The administration has said its goal is to get a consensus among the major economies by the end of 2008 – just as the president’s about to leave office – contributing to a global deal under the U.N. convention in 2009.  What kind of deal are they hoping to set up? 

From all appearances, a very weak one.  Just about the only thing the Administration thinks countries need to agree on is an aspirational long-term goal.  And, as I have said, that’s not enough.   

The best way to judge the value of the major economies meeting this week is whether it moves us toward or away from a new set of multilateral commitments.  In other words, does it move us toward the sensible center, or not?  That should, in fact, be the test of everything we do on the climate issue in the months ahead.  

I know that some of us are better at following directions than others, but this is one time when we cannot afford to get lost.  By staying on course to the sensible center, we can begin the long-overdue work of figuring out how to reduce domestic and international emissions as cost-effectively as possible — and in ways that deliver real results for the climate.   

We’re just pulling out of the driveway right now, so fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a long and interesting ride.  Thank you very much.    

Forum on International Climate Action

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
During a week when the United Nations and the Bush Administration held major meetings on climate change, the Pew Center convened an international climate action forum on Capitol Hill. Representatives of China, the European Union, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and South Africa participated in the event.

A Forum on International Climate Action

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Room
Washington, D.C.

On September 26, 2007, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change convened a forum on international climate action on Capitol Hill. Representatives of China, the European Union, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and South Africa participated in the event.

Corresponding presentation materials are accessible from the forum's agenda below.

The forum can be viewed via two webcasts:

Presentations: National/Regional Climate Programs

  • Dr. Ryutaro Yatsu, Councilor for Global Environment, Ministry of the Environment
  • Artur Runge-Metzger, Head of Climate Change and Energy Unit, DG-Environment
    European Commission
  • Gao Guangsheng, Director General, Office of National Climate Change Coordination Committee, National Development and Reform Commission

 Roundtable Discussion: Post-2012 Issues and Options

  • Rachmat Witoelar, Minister for the Environment
  • Humberto Rosa, Secretary of State for Environment
    Portugal (on behalf of the Presidency of the European Union)
  • Fernando Tudela, Under Secretary for Planning and Environment Policy
    Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources
  • Dr. Urban Rid, Director General for Climate Protection and International Cooperation, Federal Ministry for Environment
  • Su Wei, Deputy Director General, Department of Treaty and Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Alfred Wills, Deputy Director-General, International Cooperation, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
    South Africa
  • Dr. Prodipto Ghosh, Member of the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change

Climate Policy Should Focus on Reducing Emissions

Climate Policy Should Focus on Reducing Emissions

By Vicki Arroyo

Originally published in the September/October 2007 issue of The Environmental Forum

I wish there were an easy solution to climate change — one that didn’t require fundamental and difficult changes in our energy system, law, or behavior. I also wish I could lose weight without diet or exercise. But depending on “geoengineering” to solve global warming is a dangerous delusion. Like a fad diet or liposuction, it may not provide sustainable benefits and will undoubtedly be accompanied by unforeseen adverse consequences (think fen-phen).

Granted, tackling climate change requires a Herculean effort: emissions are on the rise, while the newest science reveals impacts occurring faster than we envisioned. We are running out of time. To avoid the most serious consequences of warming — loss of species, irreversible breakdown of ice sheets, and the human toll from more intense heat waves and hurricanes — scientists say we need to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide at less than a doubling of preindustrial levels (in the range of 450–550 ppm of CO2). If we’re very lucky, that might hold us to a 3.6ºF (2ºC) global average temperature rise.

It’s tempting to dismiss projected impacts as hyperbole or to believe that we can engineer a “fix,” the way the Apollo 13 crew saved themselves by using duct tape to fashion a make-shift filter in their struggle against rising CO2 levels on board their malfunctioning space capsule. I applaud those working on grand fixes and wish them every success. But I place more stock in solutions that exist now. A Princeton University study shows that choosing just seven current technologies from a number of options, including renewables, energy efficiency, and nuclear power, can curb emissions growth sufficiently now, while buying time for technological breakthroughs. Each of these so-called “wedges” can cut emissions by 1 gigaton per year within 50 years.

But these technologies won’t be deployed on the necessary scale without the right policies. One key policy is emissions trading, which has worked for traditional air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and is even better suited to curbing greenhouse gases. The European Union has already developed the world’s largest carbon market. Some U.S. states are following suit, and a number of cap-and-trade proposals are pending in Congress. By combining cap-and-trade with efficiency standards for cars and appliances, advanced technology research, and development of geological storage, we can reach our emissions reductions goals.

So the essential first step is simple: stimulate existing technologies through demonstrated, cost-effective policies. This takes political will, and there is no time to lose. Greenhouse gases differ from traditional air pollutants, which can be eliminated with more than 99 percent efficiency at the stack. Greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere — and our oceans — for hundreds of years. Even if geoengineering manages to cool a warming planet, it won’t solve other problems, such as ocean acidification from conversion of CO2 to carbonic acid. And the risks of such “fixes” as seeding the oceans with iron and adding cooling particles to the atmosphere are too big to ignore.

Yes, we should research all options. But right now our focus should be on putting policies in place to reduce our emissions and on preparing to cope with a changing world.

(Ms. Arroyo offers a view on the direction for climate policy that differs from one advocated by Alan Carlin, a senior economist at the EPA. Carlin advocates a “geoengineering” approach called solar radiation management as an effective and economical climate policy. While such long-shot approaches may be necessary to consider in the future, Arroyo argues that the current focus should be on greenhouse gas mitigation.)
by Vicki Arroyo, Director of Policy Analysis--Appeared in The Environmental Forum, September/October 2007
Vicki Arroyo

Press Briefing: International Climate Change Summits

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In preparation for major climate change meetings in Washington and New York later this month, the Pew Center held a briefing on international climate issues at the National Press Club on September 19, 2007. The briefing provided in-depth information about key international climate negotiations over the past 15 years, the upcoming meetings, and the UN climate negotiations later this year in Bali.  Main topics of discussion included emission trends among the major greenhouse gas-emitting countries, history and status of the international climate change effort, agendas and expectations for the summits in Washington and New York, and options for a future global climate agreement.  Pew Center experts Eileen Claussen, Elliot Diringer, and Joanna Lewis spoke at the briefing, and their presentation materials can be accessed from the link below: Background Briefing: International Climate Issues (September 19, 2007)

Additional Resources:

World Economic Forum: New Champions Meeting in Dalian, China

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WEF Inaugural Annual Meeting of the New Champions
September 6-8, 2007

The Pew Center participated in this inaugural event that brought together international leaders in business and government to discuss climate change. View the webcast of Pew Center President Eileen Claussen at the meeting. The World Economic Forum provides more information about the meeting.

U.S. Exceptionalism and Climate Change (Part II)

July 20, 2007

By Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer

This article originally appeared in The Globalist


American exceptionalism is becoming an increasingly potent force in U.S. environmental policymaking. As Eileen Claussen and Elliot Diringer argue, the United States must encourage and tap those elements of U.S. exceptionalism favoring — and overcome those impeding — stronger action and engagement in the environmental arena.

By many measures, the United States has long been at the forefront of environmental protection, both domestically and internationally.



U.S. consumerism

One particularly touchy dimension of U.S. exceptionalism on climate change is America’s unabashed devotion to consumerism.

What is regarded by many Americans as virtually a sacred right is often seen elsewhere, in poor and wealthy countries alike, as a selfish sense of entitlement.

It is not necessary to delve into the roots of American consumerism to see its powerful sway, most obviously in the case of cars and oil. Existing technology could significantly improve auto-fuel economy with little or no sacrifice in safety, performance or cost.

But the auto industry, having exploited the “light truck” loophole in federal fuel economy standards to introduce an ever-expanding line of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), has successfully fended off tighter standards in part with an argument that they would impinge on consumer choice.


Saving energy

Since the late 1980s, the average fuel economy of the American fleet has been essentially flat. Meanwhile, other countries, including China, have established fuel economy standards, either by law or voluntary agreement, substantially stronger than the United States'.

Since U.S. President Jimmy Carter exposed himself to ridicule by encouraging Americans to don sweaters and lower their thermostats, politicians have been loathe to suggest that saving energy (whether to reduce emissions or reliance on foreign oil) will entail sacrifice of any sort.


Gas taxes

Gas taxes are many times higher in Europe, yet in the United States, as the Clinton Administration discovered when it proposed a modest BTU tax, the notion of raising gas taxes is a political non-starter.

Indeed, in the spring of 2006, as gas prices reached record highs, there were bipartisan calls in the U.S. Congress to suspend the federal gas tax. “One of the unwritten stanzas of the American creed,” noted one commentator, “is that a tank of gas, whenever an American needs one, is a birthright.”

For many in other countries, confronting climate change necessarily entails an examination of lifestyle. In the United States, leaders typically invoke the notion of lifestyle only in its celebration or defense.


"The American way of life"

Asked whether President George Bush believed that changing lifestyles was an answer to America’s energy woes, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was unequivocal in his response.

“That’s a big no,” he said. “The president believes…it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one.”



Policy innovator

In a very real sense, the prospects for an effective global response to climate change hinge on the willingness of the United States to engage and lead internationally.

The exceptional mix of strengths, interests and predilections we bring to this issue has made us a fickle partner in the global effort. We need to become a full partner, now and for the long term, if we are to protect our national interests and fulfill our global responsibilities.

To assume that role, we must find ways to encourage and tap those elements of U.S. exceptionalism favoring — and overcome those impeding — stronger action and engagement.


New technology

New technology is, in practical terms, the solution — and technological prowess is perhaps our greatest untapped strength.

But developing the climate-friendly technologies we need and then ensuring they are actually deployed requires more than subsidies and R&D partnerships.


New investments

The necessary investments will be made and technologies mobilized only if markets are given clear, consistent signals. These must come from government through enforceable goals and the types of market-based policies we have pioneered.

Unleashing technology will also help overcome some of the sources of resistance.

While many Americans might adopt modest changes in lifestyle to help fight global warming, our consumerism is deeply rooted. The real hope must be that alternative technologies can make the American lifestyle more compatible with climate protection.


Economic advantages

New technology also creates economic advantage. Smarter companies are positioning themselves now for an edge in the global clean-energy market.

Once the United States commits to the path, there is every reason to believe American firms will find significant opportunities. Understanding this can help turn the competitiveness argument around.


U.S. global responsibilities

Yes, some industries and workers may be disadvantaged and their needs must be met, but odds are that many more will benefit from the conversion to a clean-energy economy.

And once we can see beyond the competitiveness question, we can hopefully have a more thorough and honest debate about the broader question of fairness and America’s global responsibilities.

Depending on the issue and the time, the competing strains of U.S. exceptionalism can lead down alternate paths. On issues defined largely by competing national interests, it may be debatable whether the unilateral or multilateral course is the better option.


Multilateral solution

But with climate change, the challenge is to align multiple national interests with the global interest in a stable climate.

The only lasting solution is a multilateral one. As never before, we need the brand of exceptionalism that expresses itself in U.S. engagement and leadership.


Editor's Note: This excerpt is adapted from "Power and Superpower: Global Leadership and Exceptionalism in the 21st Century," copyright 2007 The Century Foundation Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.


Read Part I here.

by Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer, Director of International Strategies--Appeared in The Globalist, July 20, 2007
Eileen Claussen
Elliot Diringer

U.S. Exceptionalism and Climate Change (Part I)

July 19, 2007

By Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer

This article originally appeared in The Globalist


U.S. policymaking has long been influenced by a sense of exceptionalism, or divinely blessed uniqueness. As Eileen Claussen and Elliot Diringer argue, the United States is indeed exceptional when it comes to climate change — as it is the nation with the greatest responsibility, and the greatest capacity, to lead the global response to the crisis.


By exceptionalism, we mean the unique attributes that shape and empower the U.S. international role, in this case, with respect to global climate change.

We do not mean to imply that this amalgam of interest, attitude and experience in any way confers an innate superiority. Rather, as with other international issues, there are competing strains of American exceptionalism — some tending toward multilateralism, others toward unilateralism.


Sources of U.S. exceptionalism

Some of the sources of U.S. exceptionalism on climate change are the same that condition American conduct across the full range of international relations.

First and foremost, perhaps, is a deep-seated ambivalence and at times antipathy toward international entanglements, compounded in this case by an innate distrust in some quarters of any manner of environmental cause.

A second, more structural source is a system of government that divides treaty-making powers between the executive and legislative branches, allowing divisions and disconnects — at times bordering on the dysfunctional.


A global powerhouse

Beyond such perennial influences are a number of other peculiarly American attributes shaping U.S. attitudes and action on climate change. We explore here some of the more prominent.

It is perhaps all too obvious, but the United States is exceptional in the climate arena simply by virtue of its sheer influence on the global stage. It is the world’s largest economy and not coincidentally, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases — a position it has occupied for as long as records have been kept.


Environmental damage

On an annual basis, the United States accounts for roughly 25% of global emissions. Much is made of rising emissions from developing countries and the likelihood that in a decade or two China will surpass the United States as the largest emitter.

But most of the world tends to take the historical view — as most greenhouse gases reside in the atmosphere for a century or more — and from that perspective, the “largest emitter” label is not so easily shaken.

Cumulatively, the United States was responsible for nearly 30% of global emissions from 1850 to 2000, followed closely by the European Union. China and India contributed 7% and 2%, respectively.


The largest economic powerhouse

It stands to reason that, as the world’s leading economic powerhouse, the United States generates more emissions than any other country in absolute terms.

But it consistently ranks among the highest in relative terms as well. By 2025, even with the dramatic rise in developing country emissions, U.S. emissions per capita will still be four times those of China — and 14 times those of India.


Little scientific understanding

By the same token, the tremendous enterprise and prosperity that have contributed so much to the atmospheric burden also make the United States exceptionally qualified to lead the global response.

Certainly no nation has done more to advance scientific understanding of climate dynamics and the causes and potential consequences of global climate change.

By the U.S. government’s accounting, the United States spends approximately $1.7 billion a year on climate-change research — roughly half of total expenditures globally, three times more than the next largest contributor and more than the combined contributions of Japan and the European Union.


Spending lower than 20 years ago

With its vast technological research — both public and private — the United States could no doubt establish itself as the unrivaled leader on that front as well.

Yet despite the seeming proliferation of climate technology initiatives under successive administrations, federal energy research and development (R&D) spending is lower than it was 20 years ago, while private investment is down nearly 75%.


The nation with the greatest responsibility

Around the world, the United States is universally perceived as the nation with the greatest responsibility — and the greatest capacity — to address climate change.

While most other industrialized countries are taking a first step under Kyoto, it is highly improbable that other nations will commit to an ambitious, sustained effort without the United States, especially as it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Even apart from its position as the world’s only superpower, the United States is de facto the most influential player on this issue, whether — or in what manner — it chooses to engage.


Editor's Note: This excerpt is adapted from "Power and Superpower: Global Leadership and Exceptionalism in the 21st Century," copyright 2007 The Century Foundation Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.


Read Part II here.

by Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer, Director of International Strategies--Appeared in The Globalist, July 19, 2007
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