A congressional delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently traveled to China to assess the potential for cooperation on international climate change efforts and to survey China’s independent efforts to reduce its CO2 emissions. Ranking member of the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) was part of this delegation. His take away from the trip? Nothing good. At a press conference in Beijing on his way home on May 28, Sensenbrenner said:
“It’s business as usual for China. The message that I received was that China was going to do it their way regardless of what the rest of the world negotiates in Copenhagen.”
The take-home message from his full remarks and previous statements was clear: The United States should do nothing on climate change because China will do nothing. The line that China is not cooperating with the world on climate change is an old wag in the debate over enacting a domestic cap and trade. We’ve seen it emerge again in hearings over the American Clean Energy and Security Act introduced by Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) and we can bet on it coming up when the Senate takes up companion legislation in the coming months.
We already knew that Sensenbrenner is no friend of ACES. But what’s newly troubling is that he based his incorrect comments in Beijing largely on remarks made by a Chinese economist, Pan Jiahua, who directs the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Sensenbrenner used an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that quoted Professor Pan to accuse him of “denigrating the Waxman-Markey [energy and climate] bill,” especially its midterm targets of 17 percent cuts below 2005 by 2020. He also claimed that Professor Pan said that, “China has been too aggressive in reducing their [sic] emissions.” Sensenbrenner insinuated after a personal meeting with Professor Pan that he might be “speaking for the thinking of China,” and concluded that Pan’s position represented a “significant step backwards.”
This story is not over yet. In an exclusive statement released to the Center for American Progress, Professor Pan characterized Sensenbrenner’s selective reading of his comments in the Australian press and the account of their closed-door meeting as both “improper and unethical,” and designed to “frighten the American public and halt U.S. progress on solving the problem of global warming.”
But here Sensenbrenner not only ignores China’s earnest attempts and remarkable progress to steer its economy toward a lower-carbon path, but in this case also distorts the words of Professor Pan—a highly respected member of the international climate science community who was a lead author on sustainable development and mitigation for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th Assessment, which won a 2007 Nobel Prize.
Contrary to what Sensenbrenner would have the world believe, Pan emphasized in his statement to the Center for American Progress that “China is in fact ready and willing to engage with its international partners to help shape a new multilateral climate policy architecture.”
And Professor Pan declares in no uncertain terms that ACES is “a positive move forward for the U.S. especially after eight years of inaction on climate change.” When it comes to the midterm targets of the Waxman-Markey bill, which have been criticized by others as being too weak, Pan took this occasion to explicitly endorse the “carbon cap equivalents” approach proposed by CAP, which takes into account the full range of actions taken by the United States, China, and all other parties in order to assess each country’s true emissions reduction potential. According to Professor Pan, “If it can be demonstrated that the full slate of programs in the [U.S.] legislation can produce potential midterm emissions reductions greater than the 17 percent midterm target—as has been argued by the Center for American Progress—then the U.S actual contributions to emissions reductions are larger than the simple numeric target.” Professor Pan also agreed with CAP’s analysis that China’s progress toward emissions reductions should be counted in the same way. A similar proposal was floated by the Australian delegation to the UN climate change meetings this past week in Bonn at an interim strategy session. Representatives from developing countries had stringent criticism for the proposal. In a subsequent interview with us Professor Pan demurred: “For emission reductions everything counts. Direct emissions, renewable energy, forestation, everything counts. We should include everything. It should be an overall package.”
Professor Pan also commented in this interview on the various ways in which the Chinese people have already had to make adjustments in their day-to-day lives in order to help meet the country’s ambitious goal to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP in 2010 by 20 percent below 2005 levels. For example, thermostats in public buildings can be set no lower than 26 degree Celsius (78.8 degrees Farenheit) in the summer and no higher than 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Farenheit) in the winter, while elevators in high rise buildings are often turned off during public holidays even though the buildings are in use.
Professor Pan’s claim in the Australian press that China had been “too aggressive in reducing their emissions” is telling, however. It is not that he believes China should slow its attempts to reduce CO2, but rather that he wanted the rest of the world to realize that the Chinese people are already making sacrifices to meet these goals rather than blithely charging forward in an unfettered pace towards emulating western lifestyles. The reality is that China’s development pathway will not result in two cars in every garage or a vast array of modern conveniences easily available for all.
The clock is ticking. We are now entering a crucial six-month period before the U.N. climate change negotiations in Copenhagen where a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, must be hammered out. If the United States succeeds in proving to the world by passing ACES that we are again at the table and ready to help forge this agreement, then we will start the process of curbing global warming pollution, creating clean energy jobs, enhancing energy security, and renewing our role as a global leader on this most critical of issues.
Yet we must first move beyond the misleading statements by those detractors on the international and domestic front that are using every conceivable false argument as an excuse for inaction. We are grateful to Professor Pan for helping to set the record straight.
Andrew Light is a Senior Fellow and Julian L. Wong is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress. To read more of their work on China’s progress on climate change, please go to the Energy and Environment page of our website.
- China Begins Its Transition to a Clean-Energy Economy by Julian L. Wong and Andrew Light
- The Great Transformation: Climate Change as Cultural Change by John Podesta