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Getting the U.S.-China Climate Partnership Right


Op-Ed
John Kerry
Secretary of State
ThinkProgress
Washington, DC
July 19, 2013

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President Nixon once changed the world with a single handshake on a Beijing tarmac, beginning a new relationship with China.

Today, it’s not just our geopolitics that are changing — it’s the earth itself. And it requires a new partnership with China to meet the challenge.

Nothing less than a transformation of the way we use and produce energy will be enough to tackle the urgent threat of climate change.

Of course, the future has a way of humbling those who try to predict it with any certainty. But here’s what the science is telling us: if we fail to connect the dots — if we fail to take action — the impacts of climate change will become unmanageable at catastrophic levels.

That’s why this week, at the Major Economies Forum, Todd Stern, our Special Envoy for Climate Change, carried a message of the need to make potent progress both in terms of concrete action now, and in terms of developing a new global agreement for 2015. Plain and simple, all nations have a responsibility to make near-term emissions reductions. The costs of inaction get more and more expensive the longer we wait — and the longer we wait, the less likely we are to avoid the worst and leave future generations with a sustainable planet.

We all know China and the United States have unique national circumstances. But we also have a special role. Together, we account for more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. While that’s a truly staggering reality, it also means our two nations can make a profound difference. The decisions we make today — right now — will determine the fate of our planet not just for our children and grandchildren but for generations to come.

So here’s the bottom line: For better or worse, the eyes of the world are upon us. Either we create the necessary momentum to galvanize a global response, or else we risk a global catastrophe. Either we set an example for the world, or the world will make an example out of us. After all, Mother Nature knows no boundaries.

The simple fact is that we have to act — and we can.

When I visited Beijing in April on my first trip to Asia as Secretary of State, we agreed to launch the Climate Change Working Group. We’re elevating our climate concerns to a new level in our bilateral relationship, because no nation can take on this global challenge alone — nor should they.

We’re starting to make progress. Our two nations just met again at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, where our senior officials discuss the most pressing issues in the bilateral relationship. After roughly three months of hard work since our meeting in April, we agreed to accelerate our bilateral climate cooperation by approving five new joint initiatives to curb climate change. This is an important step forward.

While many measures — large and small — will be needed across our governments, two areas of focus will be reducing emissions from coal use and heavy and light-duty vehicles.

The United States and China are responsible for around 40 percent of global coal consumption. What’s more, heavy-duty vehicles are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in the United States and account for around half of transportation fuel consumed in China.

The pie is large enough for America and China to grow green together, even as we significantly reduce emissions in both these sectors.

We’ve agreed to work together to overcome barriers to carbon capture, use, and storage through several integrated demonstration projects. We’ve also agreed to work together on fuel efficiency standards, promote cleaner fuels and vehicle emissions control technologies, and increase efficiency in clean freight.

We’re also taking action to promote energy efficiency. We’re combining forces to promote energy efficiency in buildings, which account for over 30 percent of energy use in both countries. We’re assisting China in improving greenhouse gas data collection and management, the foundation for any effective climate policies. And, together, we’re promoting the growth of smart grids that are more resilient, more efficient, and capable of incorporating more renewable energy and distributed generation.

These climate measures will have all the more significance if we can help China diversify its fuel mix away from coal. That’s why our energy dialogue focused on helping China take the commercial steps needed to increase the use of natural gas. In the United States, our gas revolution has helped drive down our carbon emissions to their lowest levels in 16 years as we shift to renewable and lower carbon fuels. We stand ready to help China do the same as we pioneer the clean technologies of the future.

The opportunity is immense. And if we get it right, we will inspire more than 1.6 billion Americans and Chinese citizens to take ownership of this challenge, and to prove to the world that we can rise to meet it together.

And guess what? Putting the world on a path to a clean energy future will create millions of new jobs right here in America and around world.

Why? Because it will unleash market forces that reflect the very best of the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of our two nations. Remember: we’re talking about a global energy market that’s valued at $6 trillion with four billion users worldwide — growing to nine billion in 40 years. And the fastest growing segment of that market is clean and renewable energy.

The discussions at the S&ED have continued to knit together a collaboration between our two countries, that has enormous potential, if we get it right. By acting to address climate change, we can secure America’s place — and China’s — in the energy economy of the future. This isn’t about who wins and who loses. Revolutionizing the way we use and produce energy can be a “win, win, win” — a win for America, a win for China, and win for the world. Let’s seize the opportunity.



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