Secretary Clinton announced in Beijing that the US and China have agreed in principle to undertake a periodic high-level strategic and economic dialogue. She and Treasury Secretary Geithner will undertake the dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. The dialogue will be finalized April 2nd in London when President Obama and President Hu Jintao meet at the G-20.
This is an extremely positive step as these two key players are critical to move the world away from the brink and towards a sustainable path. The US, under Treasury Secretary Paulson, initiated a Ten Year Energy and Environment Cooperation, but it never had the attention and focus from the highest levels in the US government. And, the US under the past Administration had no strong actions to bring forward so they were never viewed as credible by the Chinese.
This dynamic is now changing with President Obama signaling that the US will act to address global warming. US leadership will be crucial as the Chinese will now be "sitting across the table" from a party that is serious. I hope that this changed dynamic will "bear more fruit" from the US-China dialogue.
And global warming will be at the center of this dialogue, as Secretary Clinton stressed:
"[A]mong the most important issues that we will discuss together is clean energy and climate change, and what the United States and China can do together."
While no details were released on the key actions that will be undertaken in this dialogue, it will be essential that this dialogue not simply result in vague declarations, press releases, and photo-ops. Instead it needs to result in concrete action by both sides in order to build trust and ensure that it brings these two countries closer together in finding solutions to global warming.
The set of nine recommendations that NRDC released in advance of Secretary Clinton's trip could form the basis of the ensuing work. These actions will need to be initiated quickly if we are going to turn the corner on global warming.
Some hints of things to come were outlined in the remarks of Special Envoy Todd Stern at a speech in Beijing:
"In our view, nothing is more important for dealing with this threat [climate change] than a U.S.-China partnership turning their full attention to it. Together, we produce about 40 percent of worldwide emissions, but together we can do great things.
We can engage in joint research and development. We can collaborate on projects involving renewable energy, efficiency in buildings, and the capture and storage of CO2 from coal plants. We can mobilize large-scale investment, and share technology, and we can discover the new technologies that will build a safer and more sustainable future."
The dynamic on global warming is changing in each country as the Obama Administration, leaders in Congress, leading companies, and others are calling for strong action on global warming. And the Chinese have now openly shown a new willingness to help solve global warming. As China put it in their recent "white paper":
"The developing countries, while developing their economies and fighting poverty, should actively...reduce their emissions to the lowest degree..."
We need these two countries to come together quickly if we are going to be successful in getting a strong international agreement in Copenhagen and strong actions to cut global warming pollution in the years to come. It can be done. The clock is ticking!