Kate Mackenzie A glimmer of hope in US China climate change talks?

As the visit to China by US climate change envoy Todd Stern, White House science advisor John Holdren and other energy officials, end, there is little news of substantial progress in the talks.

A source ‘familiar with both negotiating teams’ told the China Daily: “As far as I know, the two sides showed intent to start a partnership on climate change cooperation at an early stage but, so far, they have achieved only limited progress and it is mainly shown in scientific cooperation.” They stressed this did not mean the talks were a failure; merely that more talks needed to be had in the lead-up to Copenhagen in December.

Even reports of the tone are somewhat ambivalent: a US source told AFP that while China was ‘making strides’ in clean energy, “it will need to commit to more robust and quantifiable actions to put the world on a pathway to a clean-energy, low-carbon future.”

Scientific cooperation, while a long way from agreement on emissions levels, is nothing to be sniffed at. Sharing technology is one of several key contentious issues in the China-US dialogue on climate change: China wants access to intellectual property, and energy secretary Steven Chu are positive on this – but many IP-owning companies say their technology must be protected in order for incentives to invest.

So there was a positive note in comments from Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang who said in a press conference today:

Besides, Vice-Director Xie Zhenhua of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) had talks with the delegation. They exchanged information on the latest developments in tackling climate change respectively. They also discussed ways to enhance policy exchanges and pragmatic cooperation in climate change, energy and environment within the Strategic And Economic Dialogue framework as well as the preparation for the summit of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.

The two sides believed that strengthened dialogue and pragmatic cooperation between China and the US in climate change will benefit bilateral relations as well as international cooperation and actions in this regard. They agreed to enhance China-US partnership on clean energy and climate change based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. The two sides also agreed to work for results out of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and carry out pragmatic cooperation in fields set by the China-US 10-year environment and energy cooperation framework. They also concurred in establishing a joint technological R&D center to promote technological cooperation and setting up a joint expert team on technological cooperation and transfer at an early date.

Shanghai-based environmental lawyer and blogger Charles McElwee says this is the first such explicit mention of ‘technological transfer’.


Unrelated to the US-China talks, there was a snippet of good news in a report from the Guardian of some very confident remarks by Zhang Xiaoqiang, vice-chairman of China’s national development and reform commission, on renewable energy targets for 2020. Zhang said the goal of 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by that date would be easily attained, and:

We will at least reach 18%. Personally I think we could reach the target of having renewables provide 20% of total energy consumption.

Related stories:

What China is doing about climate change (FT Energy Source, 08/06/09)
In climate change talks between China and the US, nothing is simple (FT Energy Source, 02/06/09)
Climate talks: What China, India and Brazil want (FT Energy Source, 29/04/09)