U.S. and China Agree on Concrete Action Steps Under the Joint Climate Change Working Group

In his recent trip to China, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with government leaders in Beijing and came away with concrete steps that the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters can take together to address climate change. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to share information that would help with the UN climate change negotiations in Paris next year (when a post-2020 agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be reached) and to collaborate closely, under the auspices of the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) launched last year, on the five initiatives established by the CCWG: 

  1. Emission Reductions from Heavy Duty and Other Vehicles
  2. Smart Grids
  3. Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage
  4. Collecting and Managing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data
  5. Energy Efficiency in Buildings and Industry

The two countries announced on February 15th that they have reached agreement on implementation plans for each of the five initiatives, and made commitments to devote significant effort and resources to achieve concrete results by the Sixth U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue later this year. Notably, the plans identify specific agencies in each country to lead various tasks, as well as deadlines for each task. The areas of cooperation and timelines for each implementation plan will likely be amended over time, but they are a critical step forward toward tangible results.

My colleagues and I blogged about the importance of this joint effort on climate change last year along with key recommendations for turning the commitment into concrete actions. I am delighted to see that the involvement of the private sector and non-governmental organizations has been incorporated into some of the implementation plans, although public-private partnerships should be an integral part of each plan. As I’ve said before, NGOs like NRDC, who have been working with China on these issues for many years, can help to accelerate progress on each of these cooperative initiatives. Here are brief summaries of the implementation plans as well as suggestions for improvement:

1. The Heavy-Duty and Other Vehicles Initiative

The objective of this initiative is to share technical information between relevant agencies in the U.S. and China and identify opportunities for new policy implementation, jointly supported analytical work, and demonstration projects in three sub-categories: i) Enhanced heavy-duty and other vehicle fuel efficiency standards; ii) Clean fuels and vehicle emission control technologies; and iii) Promotion of efficient, clean freight.

Specific activities for each sub-category include:

i. Conduct information exchange (via workshops, meetings) on light- and heavy-duty vehicle efficiency and emission standards, cost-benefit analysis, technology feasibility, and regulatory structures; determine domestic compliance models and recommend opportunities for joint work that would lead to steep emission reductions as well as potential for demonstration projects.

ii. Design and implement (via study tours, workshops, lab tests) China VI vehicle emission standards; conduct information exchange for heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency standards; and explore design and implementation plans for non-road motor vehicles and supporting diesel engines. Turn China’s air quality targets into concrete policies in the transportation sector, including heavy-duty highway diesel, non-road diesel engines, and marine diesel. Explore strategies for addressing emissions from old and aging vehicles, such as scrappage, retrofits, financial and rebate incentives, and other opportunities. Undertake any other joint efforts that would support the development of stricter vehicle emissions standards or programs, as well as the potential for demonstration projects.  

iii. Engage in technical exchanges by participating in the annual China Green Freight Initiative Seminar, organize workshops on multimodal transport and freight hubs, and plan technical delegations to China to meet with appropriate Chinese government agencies and industry.

Heavy-duty trucks make up 4 percent of U.S. vehicular traffic but account for 20 percent of CO2 emissions from the transportation sector. Fortunately, President Obama just directed the EPA and NHTSA to issue new fuel efficiency and emission standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks by March 2016. China issued a roadmap for stricter fuel quality standards for gasoline and diesel last year but could really benefit under this initiative through joint research on technologies and regulations to ensure that industry abides by the deadlines.

This implementation plan calls for industry participation, but would also benefit greatly from NGO participation. For example, in terms of clean freight and marine diesel, NRDC has been instrumental in designing policies for U.S. ports to green their port operations, including the adoption of cleaner fuels for ships and land-based machinery in and near ports. We are now working with the government and stakeholders in the Pearl River Delta to accelerate the development of a regional agreement for reducing emissions from shipping and ports operations, which could dramatically improve air quality for the entire region.

2. Smart Grid Initiative

The objective of this initiative is to design a multi-year smart grid research project through a series of workshops and discussions to lay the foundation for data analysis and information exchange that would benefit future smart grid deployment. Based on existing and recently completed smart grid demonstration projects in China and the U.S., and current bilateral and multilateral cooperation projects, relevant agencies will enhance and accelerate this work.

This implementation plan does the right thing by including both the private sector and NGOs. NGOs like NRDC are already working with the Chinese government to enhance grid security and capacity. We have led demand side management efforts for nearly two decades in China and are now helping to develop an energy platform for central and provincial governments. Such existing efforts can be built upon as another concrete step in this initiative.

3. Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage Demonstration Initiative

The objective of this initiative is to build on current bilateral and multilateral programs to accelerate the adoption of CCUS in both countries and cooperate on overcoming barriers in deployment. Both countries will exchange information on experiences with technologies and demonstration projects, enhance bilateral dialogue between relevant stakeholders, and implement joint CCUS demonstration projects with business-to-business cooperation. Both countries can then take knowledge gained from this cooperation to promote policies and deploy CCUS domestically.  

4. Greenhouse Gas Data Collection and Management Initiative

The objective of this initiative is to implement capacity building activities that support China’s national, regional and provincial-level greenhouse gas reporting and inventory efforts. The U.S. EPA will provide $350,000 to support activities under this initiative--expert training workshops, study tours, and translation of U.S. materials--that would transfer EPA expertise in implementing a successful national greenhouse gas reporting program to key industrial source categories in China: power generation, iron & steel, cement & glass, nonferrous metals, chemicals, aviation, ceramics, oil & gas, mining, and coking. The funding will also transfer EPA expertise in developing a comprehensive annual national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and sinks to support similar efforts in China.

5. Energy Efficiency Initiative

The objective of this initiative is for both China and U.S. to provide available staff and resources to further three areas of collaboration: i) Energy Efficient Buildings; ii) Top Ten Energy Efficiency Best Practices and Best Available Technologies Task Group; and iii) Enhancing Cooperation on Energy Savings Performance Contracting.

Specific activities for each area include:  

i. U.S. DOE and China MoHURD will jointly support the implementation of China’s Design Standard for Energy Efficiency of Rural Residential Buildings and mutually promote recognition of U.S. Energy Star and China’s Energy Saving Product Certification (ESPC) labeling programs.

ii. The U.S. will join China’s Task Group to identify cost-effective and practical measures that consumers can implement to achieve significant near-term energy savings.

iii. Both sides will develop a formal framework to exchange information about ESPC structures in order to accelerate the ESPC market in each country. They will gather comprehensive information and analyze opportunities for high-impact areas of potential collaboration, followed by technical, financial, and policy-related exchanges. They will also implement innovative pilot projects to deploy the improved and expanded ESPC practices. Expanded use of ESPCs can help both the U.S. and China reach their respective national energy efficiency goals.

Both countries have vowed to work together to find ways to overcome common barriers to energy efficiency, such as difficulty in obtaining third party financing, fragmented and inadequate market players, energy billing and budgeting mechanisms that disincentivize energy efficiency, lack of awareness among building owners of the impacts of their actions on energy use, and inadequate use of monitoring, verification and evaluation procedures (MV&E) to gauge technical and financial performance of ESPC projects.

Energy efficiency is the cheapest and fastest way to reduce pollution in any country. NRDC was the first international environmental organization to introduce a green building program to China. We are also part of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center’s Building Energy Efficiency (CERC-BEE) consortium. Under CERC, we have done collaborative work specifically on ESPC with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and MoHURD, which could potentially create huge savings in time and resources for this initiative. NRDC also recently launched the City Energy Project, a groundbreaking national initiative to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in ten major American cities – with lessons that could be adapted to China’s circumstances. Additionally, public-private partnerships like the China-US Energy Efficiency Alliance can be especially important to ensure coordinated participation from industry members. 

In Beijing, Secretary Kerry said, “One of the most important challenges that we all face here in China, in America, in Europe and other countries…is how do we improve the quality of the air that we breathe and at the same time reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change? To be successful, it is going to take the cooperation of China and the United States - not just our governments, but also our industries.” Secretary Kerry reiterated the urgency for clean energy solutions again the next day in Jakarta, which my colleague talks about here. The Secretary is absolutely right. The implementation plans for the CCWG’s initiatives, which identify and pair relevant government agencies and other stakeholders in both countries, are clear signs that China and the U.S. are serious about combating global climate change and are following up on their words with concrete actions. 


This was co-authored with my colleague Christine Xu.