Are Chinese emissions pledges a game changer for Senate action?

China’s emissions pledge shakes up Capitol Hill debate

“That’s encouraging,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “That will help us make decisions on our emission problems.”

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said … “that’s a step in the right direction.”

That’s the E&E News PM (subs. req’d) headline and a couple of excerpts from their story on Chinese President Hu Jintao’s UN speech.

We already knew that all evidence suggests China will lead (see “Peaking Duck: Beijing’s Growing Appetite for Climate Action“) “” if the Congress passes a climate bill (see “ ‘China will sign’ global treaty if U.S. passes climate bill, E.U. leader says“).

Yesterday, Hu said (speech here):

We will endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions [per] GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level.Second, we will vigorously develop renewable energy and nuclear energy. We will endeavor to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 percent by 2020.

Third, we will energetically increase forest carbon … we will endeavor to increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from the 2005 levels.

Fourth, we will step up our efforts to develop green economy, low carbon economy … and enhance research, development and dissemination of climate-friendly technologies.

Certainly, China is going to eat our lunch on clean energy jobs if we don’t pass the clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill (see “Invented here, sold there”).  And certainly we need to hear the specific details about the carbon intensity pledge — I’d like to see them commit to reduce CO2 per GDP by more than 50% from 2005 to 2020.

But is the growing willingness of China to make real commitments going to change the dynamics in the Senate, where China’s suppose an unwillingness to act has been one of the two or three biggest objections?  Here are more some excerpts from the E&E story:

For China, the move marks a key steppingstone for the fast-growing country as diplomats work on a new international agreement that can replace the Kyoto Protocol….

On Capitol Hill today, most senators welcomed the Chinese leader’s pledge, saying it could help prospects for moving legislation that caps U.S. emissions.

“I think anything China does, if it’s constructive and fixed and measurable, and ascertainable, it’ll be very helpful, absolutely,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.).

“The more that other countries pledge to cut their carbon and to protect their own people from pollution, it helps us greatly,” added Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the lead author of a climate bill expected by next Wednesday.

Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), a member of Kerry’s Foreign Relations Committee, said China’s decision was a clear signal to U.S. businesses. “The difference here is, they’ve figured out it’s in their economic interest to be involved in this,” Kaufman said. “This is one pledge that they’re going to deliver on.”

Several moderate senators also found reason to be optimistic about the Chinese statement.

“That’s encouraging,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “That will help us make decisions on our emission problems.”

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said he had not yet seen the details. “But that’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “Clearly, the major economies are going to need to do this in concert. And it’ll be difficult for us to act unless the Chinese and the Indians are willing to make commitments that will actually solve this problem. So it’s a good sign. I’ll be interested to know the magnitude of it and whether it suggests further progress or whether it’s just symbolic.”

But several Republicans sounded outright skeptical.

Dog bites man!

“We’ll see the details,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “They’ve made similar commitments in the past but haven’t kept them.”

Uhh, no they haven’t, Senator.  China has never made a carbon intensity commitment.

“I think what China is waiting to see is what the U.S., in particular, will do,” said Barbara Finamore, China program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Last year, China’s carbon intensity was double that of the United States and triple that of Japan, Finamore explained. “There is plenty of room for China to cut its CO2 emissions significantly while continuing to grow its economy,” she said.

No question.

Remember, China had a 5-year commitment to cut its energy intensity (energy consumed per GDP) 4% per year, which it had not quite been achieving.  The carbon intensity goal needs to be stronger than that, since it is the product of energy intensity and decarbonization (CO2 consumed per unit of energy consumed).  China — and every big emitter — needs to simultaneously reduce energy/GDP and CO2/energy — the latter is achieved by having a larger and larger share of one’s primary energy come from lower carbon sources.  So, again, I’d like to see China commit to cutting CO2/GDP by more than 50% from 2005 to 2015.

The bottom line, though, is that it is getting harder and harder for Senators to hide behind China as a reason for US inaction.  Quite the reverse. It is increasingly clear that absent passage of the clean energy and climate bill, we have little chance of competing with China and, at the same time, we are pretty much the last hold out for serious global action.  If we get a bill, we will get an international deal.

7 Responses to Are Chinese emissions pledges a game changer for Senate action?

  1. Wes Rolley says:

    We knew this was coming, but don’t expect things to happen in the Senate. I have little hope that we will see any serious work begin on climate change until Congress resolves the Health Insurance Restructuring question… and that might be never.

    TV’s talking heads.. e.g. Gloria Borger, are already considering this to be a fact. We are running out of time… before Copenhagen, before climate disruption is irreversible.

    My real question is why this has not made anyone really angry. Many James Hansen and calling for non-violent civil disobedience. The latest being Dr. John Lemons. It is no longer a technological question, but an ethical one and we are expecting the US Congress to act on the basis of ethics?

    Take away the excuse that China is the culprit and they will return to the excuse that, after the bail outs and health insurance changes, we can not afford the cost.

  2. Curiously, nothing here mentions that the Chinese statement included the words, (approximately) “We will not sacrifice our progress by making a binding international agreement.” That bottom line puts them in our league as well meaning but ultimately phony pretenders.

    [JR: That’s probably the silliest thing you have ever written.]

  3. But Joe, my interpretation aside, did you not hear Hu say the quoted words?

    What is your interpretation?

    By the way, these same words were quoted by John Doerr in a speech a couple years ago at a Silicon Valley Leadership Group meeting, that person then quoted was a mayor of a large Chinese city.

    [JR: So what? They aren’t going to agree to a hard cap now. That is old news to CP readers. They will within a few years, and will get off of their BAU emissions path now.]

  4. David Walters says:

    The key of course is their massive build up of hydro and nuclear, which for ever MW produced, is a MW NOT produced by a coal plant. Let’s wish them luck.

  5. Its clear that the world needs to move rapidly towards a nuclear and renewable energy economy. The era of fossil fuels must come to an end long before the end of this century.

  6. paulm says:

    Its like a chess game and it looks like the Chinese are in front at the moment. The US looks like it will be left behind if it does not get its finger out of the oil dike.

    How did these senators get to there stations? Certainly does not seem like intellect play a role there.

  7. Stephan says:

    China is running ahead of the United States. Hopefully this is a battle the US doesn’t want to loose and therefore will put a lot of effort in reducing its CO2 emission. The current slogan from the USA is “Yes We Can” if I remember correctly. Hopefully they will prove us right and show us what a great nation can pull off.

    For more news on the environment, have a look at this Green News.