Reinvigorating the U.S.-China Climate Change Relationship

There is good news on international climate change cooperation.

The United States and China are reaching out to work in new areas related to climate change while also strengthening on-going cooperation. The two countries announced a new work plan today at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue meeting taking place in Washington. The announcement reflects the considerable increase in energy in this relationship since Secretary Kerry's visit to Beijing in April, the June meeting between the two presidents Obama and Xi, and President Obama's announcement of his own climate plan for the United States.

The two countries have considerable shared interests in combating climate change as both see increased challenges from climate change itself and as the Chinese also struggle to combat their air pollution problems.

This new initiative is important in three areas:

1. It continues the momentum from the Obama-Xi meeting in expanding into new areas. The two presidents agreed at that meeting to tackle the all-important HFC problem, a potent greenhouse gas that is covered by the Montreal Protocol (on ozone depletion). Now in this new announcement cooperative work will extend to black carbon, a key warming pollutant, especially in developing countries like China. Controlling black carbon not only reduces warming, it helps improve air quality. Moreover, many of the measures that need to be taken to address black carbon, like fuel quality and vehicle combustion efficiency, can also assist in reducing CO2.

2. It reinvigorates and expands longstanding cooperative efforts -- these include energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage (where the agreement talks about large-scale projects), smart grids and data collection. These are all areas where there has been cooperation in the past, but there is still a need for more.

3. It specifically addresses the need to increase trust and understanding of each other's programs and that this need is mutual. It is often not understood in the US how much skepticism there is toward U.S. efforts, not just in China, but around the world. While Americans question China's reporting systems, China questions the U.S. policy commitment. With a new plan by the president, it is important to have a forum where both sides' concerns can be addressed and hopefully trust enhanced.

The two countries obviously have a lot on their plates at this year's S&ED. It is a positive sign for addressing climate change that they have found the time and energy to put this much focus into this major issue. Hopefully it bodes well not only for further bilateral cooperation, but for greater efforts in the multilateral arena, as well.