Kate Mackenzie Chu’s China challenges

US energy secretary Steven Chu arrives in China today for the latest in a series of trips by high level US officials to Beijing in the lead up to the Copenhagen meeting in December. Although neither country is pursuing a bilateral deal, a good part of the success of Copenhagen will depend on whether the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases can both make concrete concessions and commitments. But after the optimism over last week’s G8 commitment, this week is looking decidedly grim.

Many countries, including China, say they want the US to legislate for carbon emission cuts before making their own commitments at Copenhagen in December. But in an increasingly familiar scene of climate change chicken, some US political constituents want China to make its own commitments before supporting legislation in their own country – and that is something that China has so far resolutely refused.

From Reuters:

As Obama pushes Congress to complete work on a bill to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, he is under tremendous pressure to get China to agree to a quantitative emissions cap at December’s meeting in Copenhagen.

Without such a commitment, a new climate change treaty is unlikely to pass the U.S. Senate, said Stuart Eizenstat, who was lead U.S. negotiator for the December 1997 Kyoto climate treaty, which was never ratified by the United States.

Add to this comments by Jonathan Pershing, the current deputy US climate envoy, that an agreement in Copenhagen might not happen at all, and the tone seems decided grim.

For Chu it will be yet another exercise in political expediency. The US and China are the world’s top coal producers, and China is building coal-fired plants at a furious rate. CCS is reportly going to be top of the agenda. Chu, who famously called coal ‘his worst nightmare’ prior to his appointment as energy secretary, has had to come to terms with the fuels’ enduring support base since then.

But the China trip could yet prove fruitful for some other of Chu’s long-held ideas. He has spoken about the potential for China’s rapid urban construction to develop better building efficiency. He is also a fan of open source software to share clean technology knowledge with China; and China is certainly keen on that too, having made technology transfer one of its demands in climate negotiation. The idea doesn’t go down so well with those who argue that innovation won’t take place without a profit motive, and they include those companies that already invest in clean energy R&D, many of which are based in the US.

Related links:

US officials to prod China on climate change (Reuters, 12/06/09)
A glimmer of hope in US China climate talks? (FT Energy Source, 10/06/09)
In climate change talks between China and the West, nothing is simple (FT Energy Source, 02/06/09)