Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sino-American green stimulus; or, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Report: "Strengthening US-China Climate Engagement"

The US-based environmental NGO Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has recently released a report on strengthening US-China climate "engagement." The report comes on the heels of similar reports issued by the Brookings Institution and the Asia Society (see previous post), and contains many of the same observations and recommendations. Nonetheless, the report frames US-China climate cooperation in a slightly different way, which deserves further commentary.

More so than the other two reports, NRDC observes that the US and China are taking parallel tracks when it comes to investing a large portion of their respective economic stimulus efforts in green efforts. This is new to both governments, and yet the objective, in terms of creating green jobs and expanding the use of green technologies, is remarkably similar. It only makes sense, then, for Washington and Beijing to coordinate the green components of their stimulus packages. NRDC, for example, recommends the creation of a "green jobs forum" to share lessons learned (p 3). It's a good idea, and in principle there's no reason why there shouldn't be a high-level and wide-ranging discussion between the two governments on what works and what doesn't when it comes to green stimulus. Coordination between the two countries could also lead to synergistic investment in specific, highly promising areas of clean technology research and develelopment.

Of course, economic stimulus is politically charged in both countries, and there's a limit to how willing either government will be in disclosing failures to use public money to good effect. In the United States, Washington may take some hits from the political right for talking to China when many Americans are still hurting from the flight of manufacturing across the Pacific. But high-level consultation and coordination between the American and Chinese green stimulus packages is still worth trying.

The NRDC report also suggests one other intriguing idea. Noting that China often lacks the capacity to accurately report its greenhouse gas emissions, the report recommends that the US offer technical assistance to bolster emissions monitoring capabilities (p 11). CGS is tempted to take this one step further, and argue that the US and China should work towards joint reporting of annual national greenhouse gas emissions.

But wait, you may say. Beijing would never go for that, and statistic ambiguity is a time-tested instrument in the government's toolkit. True. But think of the benefits: joint reporting would necessarily bind US and Chinese emissions reductions efforts together. Moreover, it's hard to think of a better way to build mutual trust in the climate arena than to commit to joint, transparent reporting. Finally, joint monitoring could help to bolster emissions data collection and monitoring in both countries, and enhance climate science cooperation.

A coordinated stimulus and joint monitoring are medium-term objectives. In the meantime, several initial steps are of greater importance (see previous post). But in the face of climate change, it's necessary to think boldly and strategically. In this vein, the NRDC report provides some enticing new food for thought.

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