| Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy

China’s Climate Change and Opportunities for US-China Cooperation

On 14 May 2009 ELIAMEP organised a discussion with Dr. Joanna Lewis, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs, Georgetown University on “China’s Climate Change and Opportunities for US-China Cooperation”.

China has surpassed since 2007 the USA in carbon emissions, accounting for 24% of global emissions.  Interestingly, 2004 predictions forecasted that this would not take place until 2030 demonstrating the huge margin of error and the lack of credible information stemming from inside China. Fact is, however, that the USA has been the largest historic emitter while, based on 2005 calculations, it remains first on per capita emissions. As both countries account today for the 45% of global emissions it is more that evident that there is a vested interest in bilateral cooperation between them on these issues.

Focusing on China, three are two main challenges and policy priorities:

a)    China’s dependency on coal consumption and the switch to low carbon emission coal technologies. Domestically, this would require from the part of China to provide concrete domestic initiatives as well as developing regulatory frameworks and a system of better mapping of geological storage locations while ensuring higher transparency and implementation control. Bilaterally between China and the USA it will involve the mutual exchange of R&D knowledge capacity between China and US and joint development of better measurement codification methods.
b)    Development of renewable energy and domestic climate action plan. While China has ratified the UNFCCC and Kyoto protocol, it is not bound by any emission reduction targets being classified as a developing country. Nevertheless, it has adopted a domestic climate change action plan which includes a national target of reducing energy intensity by 20% (below the 2005 levels) by 2010 as well as increasing the energy produced by renewable sources at 15% of primary energy and 20% of electricity capacity by 2020.  Based on current data this target will actually be met in the next 1-2 years!

The context for international engagement is, however, equally important. In this sense, the strategic cooperation between the two main polluters, China and the USA is important not only bilaterally but multilaterally too. The commitments of the Obama administration towards a better environmental policy can function as a facilitator for multilateral processes and consequently directly affect China’s position in this matter. Looking ahead, China might be ready to sign an agreement involving policy commitments in Copenhagen, which could eventually be translated in actual emission reductions. This, nevertheless, will be a difficult task as arguably China is representing the entire developing world. Considering China’s position, however, as the biggest polluter worldwide, it might be worthwhile noting that on the issue of climate change and energy the traditional divide between developing and developed nations might be inefficient and in need of revision.

Interview with Professor Joanna Lewis.

Dr. Joanna Lewis’ CV in PDF.

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