The Value of U.S-China Clean Air and Climate Cooperation

The United States and China represent the world's largest economies, the world's largest energy consumers, and the world's largest emitters of carbon pollution. Yes, there's economic competition between us -- but we share the same planet. The threats of air pollution and climate change don't respect international boundaries. We face them together; we must find a way to fight them together and seize the opportunity to shape the clean energy economy of the future. That's why I'm travelling there next week -- my first international trip as EPA Administrator.

Earlier this year, President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan which outlines commonsense steps to cut carbon pollution, help cities and towns build resilience to the impacts of a changing climate, and establish leadership abroad.

In September, EPA proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants that are flexible, put Americans back to work, and spark the innovation we need to modernize our power sector and transition to a clean energy economy. In June of next year, EPA will propose guidelines for states to reduce carbon pollution from existing plants. We've been conducting vigorous outreach with industry leaders, bipartisan elected officials, NGOs, and more -- all well in advance of putting pen to paper.

The President's Climate Action Plan also aims to put the U.S. in a position internationally to do what we do best -- lead. A goal of my trip next week is to build on the longstanding environmental cooperation between us and to move forward on broad clean air and climate change action.

China is facing severe air quality challenges. In the U.S., we can speak from experience, because not too long ago it was our cities -- like Los Angeles and New York -- that were shrouded in blankets of pollution similar to those we see enveloping Beijing and Shanghai today. Public outcry in the U.S. led to game-changing environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, reducing remarkable amounts of pollution, saving lives, and protecting and restoring our precious natural resources. In China, the public is also crying out for change as the economy and pollution levels continue to grow. And the Chinese are confronting these problems with growing commitment and urgency.

Environmental threats aren't confined to any one nation or its people. Air pollution moves indiscriminately across borders. Mercury pollution invades oceans and rivers, contaminating fish and ending up on dinner plates. That's why the partnership between our countries is more important than ever. We can share ideas and experiences, and learn from each other. The high-tech air monitoring center in Beijing I plan to visit uses state-of-the-art equipment made in the United States.

China has taken significant steps forward, but there's a tough road ahead. Continued progress will require the kind of national, regional, and local air quality management infrastructure that the U.S. uses to achieve strong public health protections here at home.

It's a great sign that President Obama and President Xi recently outlined a shared commitment to phase down extremely powerful climate pollutants known as Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). It's also very encouraging that members of the Climate Change Working group of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue are also talking next week about how to scale up efforts, together.

I remain hopeful because of what decades of the Clean Air Act history tell us: protecting our health and our environment can lead to strong, sustainable economic growth. Every dollar we've invested to comply with the Clean Air Act has returned $4 to $8 dollars in economic benefits. And if we just look at the benefits from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, we see that by 2020 benefits will outweigh costs 30 to 1.

China, too, recognizes the indispensable, interdependent relationship between the environment and the economy -- improving air quality to protect public health expands economic opportunity. Here in the United States, acting on climate change just makes sense, and we can leverage our efforts to encourage action across the world. No matter where we come from, we all have a moral obligation to act on climate change to protect the health, safety, and integrity of the planet today and for generations to come.