China, US urged to lead climate change fight

Updated: 2013-12-18 09:19

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)

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Just days after China released its blueprint for adaption to climate change, the world's two largest greenhouse emitters were urged to show more leadership.

Andrew Light, a senior advisor to the US Special Envoy on Climate Change at the State Department, said the US and China have very active and vibrant cooperation in climate change and related fields.

"Obviously, as the two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world, we couldn't conceivably solve this problem unless we are both willing to make efforts forward," Light said on Tuesday at a panel discussion on climate change at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Light, who is also a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said Secretary of State John Kerry is committed to cooperative plans with China and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy has visited China to discuss issues not only with respect to climate change but also overlapping issues, such as air quality.

During a trip to China last week, McCarthy sought more cooperation in clean air and climate change between the two countries.

Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, urged China and the US to show more leadership in fighting climate change.

"With the European Union currently dithering and unable to provide the leadership that it has previously shown on climate change, the stage has been set for the world's two largest emitters — China and the US — to set an example," Stern wrote on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian last Wednesday.

The two largest greenhouse emitters have shown more cooperation in the past year. In April, the two set up the China-US Working Group on Climate Change during Kerry's visit to China.

During last June's summit in Sunnylands, California, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama agreed that their two countries would work together and with other countries to use the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to reduce consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas. The move was widely applauded by environmental groups.

During the 5th Strategic and Economic Dialogue in July in Washington, the two countries agreed to five new action initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution: reducing emissions from heavy-duty vehicles; increasing carbon capture, utilization and storage; increasing energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport; improving greenhouse gas data collection and management; and promoting smart grids.

McCarthy's trip to China last week coincided not only with heavy smog days in Beijing and Shanghai, but also with the announcement of the first national climate change adaptation strategy by China's National Development and Reform Commission and another eight central government departments.

"Addressing climate change is not only about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is also about taking the initiative on adaptation," the strategy report said.

Pointing out that Chinese society is ill-prepared for adapting to the tough challenges presented by climate change, the report covered a wide range of areas from agriculture, water resources and infrastructure to forestry, tourism and coastline. It addressed different concerns in urban and rural areas, as well as necessary mechanisms required to ensure implementation, such as financing, capacity building and international cooperation.

The report noted that extreme weather since 1990 has caused 2,000 deaths and direct economic loss of 200 billion yuan ($32 billion) on average each year.

Stern said China is showing great ambition in fighting climate change.

"As its economy continues to expand, it is attempting to make a rapid transition to cleaner and more efficient growth," he said.

China is investing very heavily in low-carbon energy, spending $10 billion on wind farms and almost $13 billion on nuclear power in 2012 alone. More than a fifth of its electricity was generated from sources other than fossil fuel last year.

China is not only the world's largest consumer of clean electricity, it is also the biggest manufacturer of renewable energy technologies, such as solar panels.

"For China, the global transition to low-carbon economic growth is not primarily a burden, but rather a race to exploit the huge opportunities created by new markets at home and overseas," Stern said.

He praised the Chinese leadership for recognizing that the transition to a low-carbon economy is likely to be full of innovation, discovery, investment and growth.

"Indeed, it will provide the growth story of the next few decades, and it will lead to a world that is cleaner, quieter, safer, and more biologically diverse, with stronger communities," he said.

Stern warned that the US would not be immune from the impact of climate change, citing a US National Climate Assessment by the federal US Global Change Research Program that American people are already experiencing the consequences of global warming, and that their health and livelihood will be even more at risk as temperatures rise further.

"Even if Americans are concerned only about themselves, there are compelling reasons for the United States to promote an acceleration of international efforts to limit the risks of future climate change," he said.

Deng Xianlai contributed to the reporting on this story.

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