Thursday, December 3, 2009

Climate Change

Inspired by Kenneth Lieberthal's lecture on "US-China Relations and Issue of Climate Change" that was held at Princeton University on Monday 30 November 2009, I am afraid I am starting with a difficult topic instead of a frivolous one.

This is what I am going to do. I will try to balance serious topics (environment, human rights, linguistics) with light topics (humor, food, people-2-people experiences) on America in China - China in America in my blog. So...Climate Change it is. I'd like to first summarize Prof. Lieberthal's lecture, I found it very enlightening and it sets the base for my own conclusion later on!

The topic Climate Change came almost as an afterthought in Prof. Lieberthal's lecture, not because it is not important in US-China relations, but because it is a recent development one can only grasp by looking at the whole picture! In a wonderful 1 hour lecture (plus 30 minutes Q & A) Lieberthal summarized US-China relationship into four well-known topics and concluded by giving us his view on the climate change issue in US-China policy.

The four topics mentioned by Prof. Lieberthal were:

1. Stability in and Control over North Korea
2. Cross-Strait Relationships
3. Trade Ties and Tensions
4. Human Rights

All of these points are of great interest in US-China relationships. I will get back to them for sure in one of my later "difficult" sessions.

Finally, Prof. Lieberthal pointed out that US and China seemed to have found a way to cooperate on the topic of climate change without making it a political issue (be it domestic, international or transnational) - let's call it Clean Energy Cooperation. Prof. Lieberthal calls for a more economic entity (more WTO than UN) to be established to tackle Climate Change Issues.

I think this is one of the best suggestions I have heard in a long time. Environmentalists have managed to bring environment and climate change onto the political agenda, which is important for development of a legal framework and awareness, however, as we all know politics are slow and discussions keep going on. Next week's Copenhagen Summit will not reach any grand conclusions apart from the one that more talks will be needed. Any emission targets that will be established will be worthless without US and Chinese support.

However, when the economy is at work, when enterprises (big and small), universities, scientists and governments can start to make money by joining organizations for clean energy and developing a new self sufficient energy sector (and thus....emission reduction and climate change) it will be a win-win situation for all.

Here's my pitch then!
I expect that on the level of emission targets and deadlines, as well as any collective statements the Copenhagen Summit will not bring great surprises and I can imagina that no grand support from the US or China will be offered in this summit. However, I opt for looking at more invisible successes. US and Chinese joined research programs to bring the world new energy sources that do not depend on fossil fuels, but on innovative technology, and a new energy saving attitude that rises from the current economic tide. Clean Energy is Hot! and in the years to come will contribute tremendously to mitigate Climate Change effects in the world.

So....don't be disappointed if on the political level the US and China will let us down over the next years in the field of Climate Change. I am sure that both the US and China will surprise us in their contribution in the energy sector over the coming years.

Looking forward to your comments!


  1. Hey Marloes,
    I'm really excited about your blog, I'm sure you'll give us some very useful and new insights in the relationship between the USA and China! It starts off at a high level anyway, thumbs up!

    About your post, the possibility of invisible and more economic oriented successes in the climate issue is indeed a refreshing and especially rather comforting thought. I do think however, that the downside of establishing an economic entity to tackle the environmental problem should not be underestimated: 'the market' can be very untrustworthy. When producers of sustainable products have no market for their goods (e.g. due to low oil prices), then the only way for them to survive will be through subsidies of the government... thus making it a political issue instantly.

    Although I completely support the vision of prof. Lieberthal, I will still be disappointed if nothing will come out of the Copenhagen conference....

  2. Thanks Floriske, only a few more days in Copenhagen to go. Let's wait and see!