Sunday, February 22, 2009

Clinton's Visit

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets two thumbs up for her handling of the climate issue in Beijing. It's worth taking a little step back to think how far we've come in recent months. Just two months ago, the United States demonstrated its familiar reticence to take a leading role of climate at talks in Poznan (see previous post). But when she arrived in Beijing, Clinton placed the climate issue front and center, telling China "we hope you don't make the same mistakes we made" on climate. She also made a smart move in framing the climate issue as one that threatens the security of both nations, saying "This not a matter of politics or morality or right or wrong,” he said. “It is simply the unforgiving math of accumulating emissions” (see New York Times). Indeed, Clinton even went so far as to participate on a webchat, asking China's 300 million Internet users to "work together for a clean energy future" (see China Daily).

China's response to this welcome overture has been one of cautious optimism. China's Foreign Minister pledged that the economic crisis would not derail the country's greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts, a welcome sign of confidence in the seriousness of the issue. ""The government's resolve to tackle climate change has not changed, and our actions have not weakened," the Minister said, before pledging that "We are willing to work together with the international community to push the Copenhagen talks forward and make sure they yield a positive result" (see China Daily). Elsewhere, however, China's government sought to emphasize the necessity of technology transfer if climate cooperation is to be enhanced. An official at the Ministry of Science and Technology was quoted as saying "China is glad to see that the US has started to take concrete action [on US-China climate cooperation]. But without funding and technology, cooperation would end up as empty talk" (see China Daily). The official went on to reference Beijing's familiar developing-country argument that it is unable to take on concrete GHG reduction targets (see previous post).

Beijing's hesitancy points towards the next step for a promising re-invigoration of US-China climate cooperation. The US and China must come to an agreement about technology transfer and financing the deployment of GHG mitigation technology. Chinese academic Zhang Haibin writes that "Hostility toward Communism excludes China from receiving official development aid from the United States, which could significantly hasten climate-change-related projects" (see New York Times), while a recent essay by Chinese environmental experts notes that international transfer of clean technologies remains underdeveloped (see China Dialogue).

In sum, then, Clinton's push on climate can be considered a success. The real work, though, lies ahead. As Zhang's statement indicates, Washington must build on its climate overture with a series of confidence-building measures to indicate its seriousness, including adopting binding emissions restrictions itself. It must also put its money where its mouth is on technology transfer- something that, particularly in the midst of economic crisis, is an unmistakable sign of conviction to tackle climate change through Sino-American partnership. Two smaller steps will be crucial to achieving these larger goals. First, China and the US need to reaffirm and expand the dialogue on climate and energy established under the Strategic Economic Dialogue (see previous post). Second, a joint task force should be formed at once to overcome the technical obstacles to technology transfer, most crucially intellectual property rights (see previous post).

As these steps are taken, Washington should also make clear to China that it expects reciprocation. The climate and energy dialogue should state at the outset that the ultimate outcome of US-China climate cooperation must be for China to reduce its GHG emissions by a set amount, within the framework of an equitable global agreement that promotes sustainable economic development. All this lies ahead. But it's nonetheless a huge achievement to be underway on the road towards a genuinely sustainable future.

No comments:

Post a Comment