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Chinese climate expert Pan Jiahua sets the record straight: Rep. James Sensenbrenner has behaved improperly and unethically to frighten the American public and halt U.S. progress on solving the problem of global warming

By Climate Guest Contributor on June 17, 2009 at 9:19 am

"Chinese climate expert Pan Jiahua sets the record straight: Rep. James Sensenbrenner has behaved improperly and unethically to frighten the American public and halt U.S. progress on solving the problem of global warming"

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See also: Statement by Professor Pan Jiahua on Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner’s (R-WI) Remarks

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 were 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.

This post, by Andrew Light, Senior Fellow, and Julian L. Wong, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress was first published here. To read more of their work on China’s progress on climate change, please go to the Energy and Environment page of our website.

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20 Responses to Chinese climate expert Pan Jiahua sets the record straight: Rep. James Sensenbrenner has behaved improperly and unethically to frighten the American public and halt U.S. progress on solving the problem of global warming

  1. Leland Palmer says:

    We get so used to the lies of our elected officials, as they front for their special interests, that improper and unethical conduct has become normal and unremarkable.

    So of course many of the climate deniers are acting unethically or have conflicts of interests.

    Others are simply on the payroll, and say what they are paid to say.

  2. Peter Croft says:

    “China was going to do it their way regardless of what the rest of the world negotiates in Copenhagen.”

    You can understand their problem. Yesterday there was a program on ITV (UK) which showed the lifestyle of hundreds of millions of people in Western China. They scratch a living by working 12 hours a day farming parched land by hand for barely enough to live on. It is not these people that are causing CO2 emissions, but it is these people that the Chinese leaders are trying to pull out of abject poverty. Meanwhile they are moving them in their thousands as they become environmental refugees due to falling water tables.

    Meanwhile, we in the West are only too keen to point the finger at China when our per-capita emissions are 5 times theirs. More in some cases. A rational independent observer might wonder how we have the nerve… Once we have got down to their levels I think we might be justified in commenting. That feels a long, long way away.

  3. Roy Cropper says:

    Joe – you don’t work for the Iran authorities do you?

  4. max says:

    Sensenbrenner must be held accountable for his outrageous statements. Vote him out, constituents in his district must put pressure on him.

  5. Ken says:

    But are we really doing anything more than China? Under Waxman-Markey, the U.S. will accept binding caps only because China and others have not. If they had, the massive international offsets that W-M is relying on could not be appropriated by the U.S.; they would be reserved by other nations to meet their own compliance obligations.

    The international offsets, in effect, convert our domestic reduction target into a global reduction target. The theory is that we appropriate all of the cheap reductions, leaving the more expensive options to China and others if and when they adopt binding targets. W-M’s 17% reduction target is overstated; with international offsets the reduction baseline should be global emissions and all international reductions should be counted.

    More fundamentally, W-M’s cap-and-trade system does not provide a workable framework for international climate policy because China and others will not accept binding emission caps. For that matter, we will not accept binding caps — at least not caps that are science-based. A rational and responsible policy framework would not focus on achieving an inadequate emission cap at minimum cost; it would focus on achieving minimum emissions at acceptable cost. That is a goal that China could agree to.

  6. jcwinnie says:

    Well, thank goodness, Mr. Sensenbrenner is the only Congress critter, who has acted improperly and unethically. I would hate for China and the rest of the world to think such behavior was endemic among our elected federal representatives.

  7. Jay Alt says:

    This article is confusing. It is unclear who said what and when. That cannot be established by readers because the Lexus link to the press conference has expired. Dr. Pan is obviously critical in the Australian interview, as reported by Ross Garnaut’s son John. Does he exaggerate the Chinese position to denigrate them? If so, why? How can Sensenbrenner be criticized for omitting positives in a story that mentions none? Where are the exclusive CAP quotes sourced? If the goal here is to defuse the Sensenbrenner accusations, it attempt fails.

  8. M Ryan Hess says:

    This is troubling, indeed, but not very surprising. Sensenbrenner is indicative of many in the US government who represent fossil-fuel industries who are looking for any excuse, even contrived ones, to stall change.

    I agree that most Chinese officials are earnestly trying to do something about global warming. They are very sensitive to anything that might jeopardize social stability and thus risk political upheaval. And climate change would certainly destabilize China.

    More on the long-term threats of Climate Change for China on my blog: Worse Case Scenario – Likely Scenario.

  9. paulm says:

    Selfish Mutual Self-Destruction!

  10. Peter Croft says:

    Here is another take on it, from Bloomberg. It includes comments from various people, including Sensenbrenner

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?sid=aRatsB6aHyVg&pid=20601124

    This quote is attributed to the Chinese president’s special envoy on climate change, Xie Zhenhua. If that is their position it’s not much good pretending it something else.

    “Xie told an audience of business leaders and politicians in Copenhagen on May 24 that the U.S. and other industrialized nations will have to “take the lead” in greenhouse gas reductions and cut emissions between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020. He also demanded money and technology to adapt to climate change, while promising to increase the use of nuclear and renewable power. “

  11. Mark says:

    I would be surprised if the actual people in charge in China see AGW as anything other than a way to make free money. Investing in renewable sources of energy make good sense for reasons other than AGW, especially for a counrty that a) has money to invest and b) has underdeveloped infrastructure which requires investment regardless.

    If they can get the West to pay some of those costs by acting like concerned world citizens it’s a no brainer for them.

  12. Gary says:

    Luckily, the White House’s new report will shift the attention away from China’s allegedly lack of focus on climate change to highlighting how climate change could wreck havoc on US coasts and industries. check out

    climatesecurity.blogspot.com for more! the US-China relationship on climate change is going to be key for the next 30-40 years.

  13. Brett Jason says:

    If you look up the definition of “fat cat” in the dictionary, you will see that same picture of Sensenbrenner.

  14. Peter Croft says:

    Anything that polarizes the debate and backs people and countries into corners is counter-productive, whether it is the US vs. China or Dems vs. GOP. While all this bickering is going on you can guarantee that nothing will get done. Everyone has some really good reason why their position is unassailable and someone else should act first.

    Maybe the US should demonstrate global moral leadership and lead by example. In some ways they are better placed than any other country to do this.

  15. SamB says:

    Brett Jason Says:

    June 17th, 2009 at 2:11 pm
    If you look up the definition of “fat cat” in the dictionary, you will see that same picture of Sensenbrenner.

    Adults use dictionaries without pictures.

    From the sidney Morning Herald link.

    “Copenhagen will be defined by what the US and China agree on in the next few weeks,” said the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, who is accompanying Mrs Pelosi.

    President Obama is pushing legislation that would cut carbon emissions by 17 per cent in 2020 from 2005 levels. However, Pan Jiahua, one of China’s top advisers on climate change diplomacy and economics, will send a blunt message to Mrs Pelosi when they meet at the Great Hall of the People today.

    “China is not at all impressed with Obama,” Professor Pan told the Herald. “Obama’s statements are certainly insufficient and his demands for developing countries are unrealistic.”

    It is ironic that china also called Geithner over there to get an update on the USA paying its bills. China is pushing the States to start paying for what we buy. That is a bigger issue than carbon.

  16. John Mashey says:

    JR: is there a nice terse list somewhere of US Senators & Representatives who’ve made Sensenbrenner-like or other anti-AGW-science statements?

    If not, it might make a nice post to gather together a quick list of such, with a few URLs to recent or especially egregious items, and update it occasionally. Maybe you could even rank them?

    Obviously, Inhofe and Barton might head the list, but there are obviously more.

  17. Brendan says:

    The Chinese aren’t stupid. They know they are the keystone in this whole deal and are going to play that to their advantage until the very last minute. If they play it like they’re not in, they hope they’ll get a boatload of concessions (in the form of development money, a lower carbon cap, or some other special favor to them). If they instead end up torpedoing the whole thing as a result, that buys them a few years to develop their renewable industry better so that when everyone sits back down at the table (which will inevitably happen as climate change becomes more apparent), they’ll have an established industry ready to gobble up contracts from all the other players. It’s win-win for China. There’s always a minuscule chance that something could get passed without China, putting tariffs or sanctions on them for not cooperating, but with so much interconnection between China and the European and US markets, that is highly unlikely. Either Sensenbrenner is dumb, or he’s just playing dumb for his own motives. I’d wager on the latter.

  18. Peter Croft says:

    Joe, How about a post on US preparations for Copenhagen? I just found the website and there is some interesting stuff on it, such as this:

    http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=1310

    “The UN panel of climate scientists, IPCC, recommends reductions of emissions from 25 to 40 percent of 1990 levels in 2020, stressing that it should be closer to 40 to be on the safe side. IPCC also says that emissions must peak in 2015 to stabilize the global mean temperature between 2.0 and 2.4 degrees Celsius to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change.

    In comparison, the EU has promised to reduce emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels in 2020 – and increase it to 30 percent if others follow suit. Apparently, the US is prepared to cut emissions by about 15 percent by 2020, bringing them down to 1990 levels. Australia aims at five percent reductions of 2000 levels in 2020, keeping a door open for 15 percent if others will commit themselves, too. Japan has not decided yet. ”

    The author is quite pessimistic about the state of negotiations:

    “…asked how likely an ambitious deal in Copenhagen would be on a scale from one to ten – Ott replies: Two, I would say – if ten is the best chance of success.”

  19. Peter Wood says:

    Collaboration between China and the US on a non-governmental and academic level could increase the likelihood of cooperation between the US and China. Further interaction the Center for American Progress and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences would probably be a good thing.

  20. Dano says:

    What Peter Croft is saying.

    Best,

    D