Statement by Timothy Wirth, President, United Nations Foundation on U.S.-China Clean Energy Agreements announced today

November 17, 2009


Megan Rabbitt

“The announcements today in Beijing are evidence of the impressive amount of care and attention that has gone into the U.S.-China relationship over the past year and a commentary on how much work remains to be done.  We particularly welcome the agreements to launch a joint energy efficiency action plan, a partnership on renewable energy deployment and the electric power grid, and an initiative to assess China’s shale gas potential.

“We applaud the affirmation in the U.S.-China Joint Statement that “an agreed outcome” at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen next month should include emission reduction targets by developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries; substantial increases in adaptation assistance, and constructive action on technology cooperation and deforestation.  Such an agreement would provide a major step forward toward “final legal agreement” in 2010.

“We particularly endorse the statement that “transitioning to a low-carbon economy is an opportunity to promote continued economic growth and sustainable development in all countries.”

“Newly accessible natural gas resources from shale reservoirs in the United States and China have the potential to shift the two countries away from their excessive reliance on coal, the most problematic fossil fuel from the perspective of climate change.  Coal-fired plants generate nearly half of the electricity used in the United States, but they produce 82 percent of the power industry’s carbon dioxide emissions and nearly one third of the nation’s total.  Yet there is more natural gas generating capacity in the United States than coal.  The International Energy Agency recently stated that the world’s resources of natural gas are “easily large enough to cover any conceivable rate of demand increase through to 2030 and well beyond.”

“Looking forward, both the United States and China must pay greater attention and commit higher-level political direction to managing the climate and energy issues. The urgency of “the green opportunity” should be the linchpin of the relationship between these two global powers.

“In our view, the U.S. should appoint a single point of contact for the U.S. government – perhaps a joint appointment in the Departments of State and Energy – whose sole job is to manage pragmatic bilateral cooperation, ensuring that U.S. businesses have increased access to Chinese markets, that the two governments work together to create a new model of sustainable economic growth based on increasing use of clean energy, and that U.S. scientists, academics and engineers work together on the next generation of technology.

“The window of opportunity will not be open forever. Right now China looks to the U.S. for assistance on a variety of strategic and technical issues.  High level Chinese and American business and government leaders have stressed to us that if deeper relationships between the U.S. and China aren’t developed in the next few years, China will be less interested in U.S. engagement and cooperation.  The U.S. should not let this opportunity slip away – it’s about energy security, climate change, and U.S. competitiveness in the short term and about developing a strong network of relationships between the U.S. and China that will allow the two countries to tackle increasingly complex issues in the long term.

“Even as discussions proceed on the elements of a new agreement on emissions limits, tangible progress can be made right now, on first steps that will engage a wider array of countries and result in immediate action.

“Building block agreements, including energy efficiency, renewable energy and technological innovation, would augment and support the formal United Nations-led negotiations.  If developing and developed countries join in these early, concerted actions that take on the climate challenge directly, it would build trust and momentum toward a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen.

“Reaching a deal in Copenhagen will be hard enough; leaving all the negotiations to the last minute could make it unachievable.  Preliminary agreements will engender good faith and make a down payment on the more serious commitments that must follow.”