Thank you, Richard Nixon.
I’d like to begin this post by thanking Richard Nixon for creating the historic opportunity for the US to work with China on the two most critical global issues challenging our world today: Economy and the Environment. Although current US – China relations have opportunities for improvement, Nixon laid the groundwork for political collaboration with China through his 1972 visit to Beijing.
The opportunity that the US now has to work collaboratively with China to solve the economic and environmental crises may well be our greatest hope for change. The goal of this post is to highlight where we are today with regards to high level political cooperation between China and the US on the issue of a global climate change treaty. I will also add a few comments on the role of US consumers in Chinese GHG emissions.
Where are we today?
Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern (of the Stern Report) met at the State Department recently with a vice chairman of China’s National Development and reform Commission to discuss climate change, clean energy and strategies to increase cooperation aimed towards a positive outcome at the UNFCCC negotiation in Copenhagen this coming December.
This is a positive indicator that both nations are working well in advance of the December meeting to lay the political groundwork for cooperation and agreement. My hope is that conversations such as this will set up China and the US to lead the Copenhagen talks from a platform of shared, ambitious goals.
The role of the American consumer
Some significant portion of the American public blames China for increasingly high levels of GHG emissions. Commonly known as “panda sluggers”, adopters of this view are misguided in their allocation of blame towards the Chinese public and government.
As an economically developed nation, the US has already gone through our high-emissions stage of national development. Although we may not have known the environmental impacts of our growth at that time, the fact is that China is pursuing a path of economic liberty that we also pursued years ago. That being said, China is certainly not entitled to harmfully pollute our shared environment simply due to their economic development stage.
What most American consumers don’t realize is that a significant portion of Chinese GHG emissions are due to US consumption of Chinese-made goods. Between 2002 – 2005, 50% of CO2 emissions in China came from export production (60% of which was sent to Western nations). Only 7% of the emissions increase was contributed by household consumption in China. So, a few of us need to change the way we think about the Chinese public and the Chinese manufacturing industry.
Reductions in US consumer purchases due to the economic downturn will reduce demand for Chinese exported goods which will in turn, reduce Chinese GHG emissions, and that’s a positive outcome overall. However, there is a future to be worked towards in which strategies for manufacturing processes are fueled by renewable energy resources and in this new way of working, enormous economic benefits are available to both, US and Chinese markets.
In summary, I encourage us all to closely watch the conversations between the US and China as we approach the Copenhagen talks. The outcomes of these precursor talks will provide valuable insight into what we can expect from both nations in December.
Thoughts for this post were inspired by “The Great Leap Backwards“
David Bennett is an MBA candidate at the Presidio School of Management with a background in GIS applications for species conservation.