Ask the Expert - Julian Wong on China and Global Warming

What is China doing to combat global warming?

While it's true that China's economy remains heavily dependent on coal, that is only part of the story. The leadership recognizes the full-range of threats that climate change poses to its people and economy and in 2007 released a domestic climate change policy and subsequently established a climate change office within its top economic planning agency. Energy conservation has become a principle policy in its energy policies. It has set a target of reducing its energy intensity by 20 percent in 2006 to 2010. Energy intensity is the amount of energy consumed per unit of GDP. It has set aggressive renewable energy targets. By 2020, it expects to receive 15 percent of power from renewable energy sources, and this target might be raised to 20 percent, according to some reports. It will do so through a massive investment in solar and wind technologies.

China is also emerging as a leader in various technological sectors, such as cleaner coal combustion, high-speed long-distance passenger rail, and efficient ultra-high voltage transmission grid wires. China is doing all of this not out of charity, but because it recognizes that its own survival is at stake, and because it also recognizes the massive economic opportunity that comes with being a world leader in low-carbon technologies and infrastructure.

Should China's actions affect negotiations over the American Clean Energy and Security Act?

The United States can and should take leadership in global climate change action. While China has eclipsed the United States recently to become the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases on an annual basis, the United States still remains the largest emitter in the world by far in terms of per capita emissions and historical cumulative emissions; therefore, there is a huge moral imperative for the United States to act first.

We should also embrace domestic clean energy legislation because it represents one of the biggest economic opportunities of our lifetime. The pending clean energy bill would provide massive investments in clean energy technologies, provide scores of clean energy jobs, enhance economic competitiveness because we are consuming less energy, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. If we start to recognize what China is doing in laying down in a very impressive manner a foundation for a low-carbon economy, then we must stop and think, if we continue to push China to do more before we start taking action ourselves, then we may be the ones who end up chasing China.

How can the United States and China work together on climate issues?

First and foremost, the United States needs to take leader and adopt clean energy legislation today. Failure to demonstrate constructive movement in that direction will cause us to lose all credibility in being a cooperative international partner. That said, there are various technology areas that are ripe for cooperation. Energy efficiency in buildings, electric vehicles, smart grid technologies, cleaner coal production, and carbon sequestration, are all ripe areas for joint investment, research, development and deployment, but all the technology in the world will not matter if there isn't sufficient capacity to implement these technologies and measure their impacts accurately.

The United States should to help China build institutional capacity at the provincial level and share best practices in measuring emissions and reporting them. The final thing to note is the the United States and China are not the only players in town. Japan and the E.U. have already engaged with China on various climate action programs. The United States and China should seek to engage other countries in any collaborative effort.