Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The United States and China, the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, announced plans for a joint clean energy research center Wednesday, raising hopes of better cooperation in what is becoming an increasingly competitive industry.
With initial financing of $15 million and headquarters in both countries, the center will focus on clean coal, building efficiency, and clean vehicles, said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. As a research clearinghouse for scientists, it can also highlight potential U.S.-Chinese cooperation in an industry that Washington says could create thousands of jobs.
"Today we are taking an important step forward on the clean energy cooperation we need," Chu said, making the joint announcement with China's Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang in the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing. "I know we can accomplish more by working together than by working alone."
The research center is an effort at compromise between the two governments, which disagree on whether China should join richer nations in adopting binding emissions-reduction targets to stave off environmental devastation from climate change.
Chu and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke were in Beijing this week to lobby China to promote private-sector development of alternative energy such as solar, wind, biofuels and other clean energy. The two, both descendants of Chinese immigrants, met with Chinese ministers in charge of trade, technology, health and other areas.
Locke appealed to China to avoid trade barriers to clean technology. Some companies say Beijing is trying to build up its industry by shielding companies from competition, shutting foreign competitors out of wind power and other projects.
"We need to empower U.S. and Chinese entrepreneurs and innovators to create and collaborate free from artificial trade barriers," Locke said in a speech to an audience of American businesspeople.
President Barack Obama sees the development of cleaner energy as a source of growth and jobs for the struggling U.S. economy. His stimulus package includes billions of dollars for alternative energy research.
China is promoting solar, wind and hydroelectric power to reduce reliance on imported oil and gas, which its communist leaders see as a strategic weakness. But Beijing has rejected binding emissions commitments, saying it is the responsibility of rich countries to cut their own output.
Most scientists agree that even a slight increase in global temperatures will wreak havoc as seasons shift, crops fail and storms and droughts ravage fields.
Earlier Wednesday, in a speech to students at the elite Tsinghua University, Chu said China and other developing countries should join the United States in setting mid-century targets to cut carbon emissions in the battle against global warming.
"We all live in the same world. The developed world did make the problem, I admit that, but the developing world is going to make the problem much, much worse," Chu said.
Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, acknowledged that the U.S. and other developed nations were the first to emit such dangerous gases, but said the developing world was fast catching up.
If China continues on the same course without using more renewable resources the "amount of carbon China emits in the next 30 years will equal all the carbon the U.S. has emitted in the life of the country," he said. "We are all in this together so we have to fix it together."
"What the U.S. and China do in the coming decades will in a large part determine the fate of the world," he said.
Beijing has said it opposes proposed U.S. legislation that would impose tariffs on countries that do nothing to cut emissions.
"Our main concern is that the implementation of this policy will harm the interests of developing countries," a Commerce Ministry spokesman, Yao Jian, said Wednesday.
Yao said Beijing sees protectionist motives behind the bill and warned that it might trigger retaliation by developing countries.
Trade ties between the United States, the world's biggest economy, and No. 3 China are regarded as a key element of a recovery from the deepest global economic slump since the 1930s.
Beijing's currency controls and complaints about import and investment barriers are a chronic irritant in U.S.-Chinese trade relations.
China unsettled its trading partners when it announced in May that projects financed by its economic stimulus package are required to use domestically made goods whenever possible. Protectionism or barring foreign companies from Chinese contracts could be a "serious threat to trade cooperation," Locke warned.