Following two days of high-level discussions held in Washington at the beginning of last week, the U.S. and China signed an agreement to increase cooperation on climate change and energy.
These discussions were the first meeting in the China-U.S. Economic and Strategic Dialogue which was launched by Hu Jintao and Barak Obama at the G20 meeting in London in April, and are set to continue later this year. They consisted of two parallel tracks – an economic track, co-chaired by US Treasury Secretary Geithner and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan; and a policy one, co-chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo
In the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was signed at the end of the meeting the two nations agree to “strengthen and coordinate our respective efforts to combat global climate change, promote clean and efficient energy, protect the environment and natural resources, and support environmentally sustainable and low-carbon economic growth”. The countries agree that cooperation between them is crucial to reaching these goals, and that they both have an important role in global negotiations. The document also states that this future cooperation will also strengthen and improve the relationship between China and the US, something that will benefit both countries in areas other than climate change as well.
As far as practicalities, the MoU doesn’t contain a whole lot of those. There are no exact targets and no detailed plans for cooperation other than stating that the two countries will “establish Climate Change Policy Dialogue and Cooperation as a platform for the United States and China to address global climate change and to identify and resolve areas of concern.”
So this agreement is no more than a general outline for future cooperation, which while it is definitely a step in the right direction, as US Senator John Kerry pointed out “the fully defined mutuality of effort between our two countries—did not materialize.”
This does not mean though that the improved relationship between the US and China since Obama took office has not yielded more concrete developments. These came two weeks previously when – during secretaries Steven Chu (energy) and Gary Locke (commerce) visit to China – the two countries agreed on several joint projects including an agreement between the U.S. DoE and the Chinese Ministry of Urban-Rural Development to foster collaboration in the development of more efficient building designs and sustainable communities; and an announcement of a joint Clean Energy Center to which the two countries pledged $15 million in support of initial activities.
These increasingly closer ties with China also provide opportunities to expose the US public and members of Congress to the progress made within China in fields such energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean energy technologies. This is important as the perceived lack of progress in other major emitters, especially China, is often used as an excuse to oppose and water down the US climate bill.