U.S. Envoy Sees Climate Partnership With China
Author: Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
A man walks past a cement factory on the outskirts of Baokang, Hubei province in this February 26, 2009 file photo.
WASHINGTON - The United States wants to forge a partnership with China, bringing the world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases together to address global warming, Washington's top climate diplomat said on Wednesday.
This bilateral relationship could be a "positive anchor" for overall U.S.-China relations, possibly easing dialogue on such issues as trade and the Korean Peninsula, said Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change.
Stern said he expected no signed document from meetings he will have in China next week, but that in the future, the areas for possible partnership include energy efficiency, electric vehicles and carbon capture and storage.
"This trip is one piece of what is going to be an extended interaction with the Chinese at all levels," he said. "So yes, the vision that we have is of a clean energy and climate partnership bilaterally with the Chinese."
China is the world's biggest emitter of climate-warming carbon dioxide, in large part because of its fast-growing economy and its reliance on coal. The United States is second. Together they account for 40 percent of all global carbon emissions.
While China is curbing its carbon intensity -- the measure of greenhouse emissions as related to economic output -- its absolute emissions are soaring, while U.S. emissions are flattening out, Stern said, adding that China emits about four times as much carbon as the United States does for every unit of GDP.
Stern sets off for China on Saturday, along with White House Science Adviser John Holdren, the U.S. Energy Department's David Sandalow and other officials. From June 8 to 10, they will meet with Chinese environment officials, economists, U.S. and Chinese business executives and others with a stake in China's climate and energy future.
The envoy told a gathering at the Center for American Progress that China needs to "rebalance its economy" to cut down on polluting industries and to increase environmentally cleaner alternatives, especially to coal-fired power plants.
TWO GOLIATHS, JOINING HANDS
"This is not a trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection. China must do both," Stern said.
He said the United States should "meet China halfway" by developing a genuine partnership.
"If the two Goliaths on the world stage can join hands and can meet each other at the highest levels in a long-term, vigorous climate and energy partnership, it will truly change the world," Stern said.
Stern dismissed China's demand that developed countries commit between 0.5 percent and 1.0 percent of their gross domestic product to help developing countries address global warming, but said the world's rich countries would have to provide financial and technical support at some level.
"The numbers that have been tossed around (by the Chinese) I don't take seriously because they're not intended to be serious. I think they're intended to set some marker down," he said.
He noted that U.S. climate change legislation now moving through Congress includes provisions for substantial "financial flows" to China and other developing countries to help limit their carbon emissions.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives aim to pass a climate change bill by early August, but said it could happen as soon as the July 4 holiday recess.
Also on Capitol Hill, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told a congressional committee that if the United States ultimately legislates the cutting of greenhouse emissions, "(we) ought to be able to negotiate or work with China and other countries to get them to do the same."
Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, told reporters on Capitol Hill that the United States could join a global carbon-capping deal even if China did not.
"I would say personally, China and the developing countries are waiting for the developed countries. We are in a better financial position," Chu said. "But as developed countries, we are in a better position to exercise some leadership."
Stern parsed Chu's remarks at an afternoon telephone briefing.
While domestically the United States is committed to press on with carbon-capping, Stern said, in the international context, "I would not say the United States is going to race forward with major players like China on the sidelines."
China and other fast-developing countries like India are exempt from carbon-capping requirements of the Kyoto Protocol.
The United States is the only major developed country that has not joined this global pact, but Washington is working with other nations on a follow-up agreement in a series of meetings this year, culminating in a forum in Copenhagen in December.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)