I work for a Chinese NGO. But in that capacity I am frequently asked to contribute analysis and even news stories to US-based publications like The Nation, Huffington Post and Grist, for which I write regularly.

This means that every once in a while I suddenly have to take off my NGO advocacy hat and put on the guise of an investigative journalist.

In the past two years I have noticed some interesting phenomena as a foreigner working in China both as a journalist and an activist. Below are a few observations:

It is hard to find the truth. Many potential sources of information are afraid to talk or provide any insight or information outside of the official party line that is constantly pumped into the media or any other source of public information. Beijing is an efficient dictatorship that has two successful ways of keeping dissenters quiet. The first is though censorship and the second is through extra-legal punishment. While there are ways of getting around the web censors in China (using connection-slowing proxy servers that come with a high monthly fee) most people don’t have the time or perseverance to get beyond the great Chinese firewall. For those that do talk, bad things happen. When I was in China last, a reporter who wrote a story that was critical of the government had thugs break into his house and cut his fingers off the day the report was published. Last week, a blogger who had mentioned he was being followed disappeared and then reappeared later “recovering” in a hospital, although it was not clear from what. This happens so often that Chinese people have adopted a tongue-in-cheek slang word: to disappear is to be “harmonized.”

There is no truth. This is a brick wall that I have run into many times. Often as a journalist, but more critically as an activist. Basic information on simple policies is  just not available or, worse, contradicting. Beijing is a sprawling web of bureaucracies with long and complicated names. For example, when looking for the government body responsible for adopting international standards for measuring greenhouse gases, I was turned away at the Chinese Academy for Environmental Policy at the Center for Climate Policy at the Ministry of Environmental Protection and told that instead I should go to the China Standard Certification Center of the National Institute of Standardization under the Standardization Administration of China which is part of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.  A knowledgeable colleague told me that actually I should go to the Department of Climate Change at the National Development and Reform Commission. And there is also the National Energy Saving Center, the Energy Research Institute and many others. Once, a red faced high level member of the EPA, over lunch in Beijing, told me he was so fed up with Chinese bureaucracy he felt like slamming his head against a wall.

US media misses all the good moments. Somehow the mainstream media misses all the good stories in China. For example a non-existent Cairo-inspired “protest” in February was attended almost entirely by foreign correspondents and police (but no protesters). One observer noted: “No one shouted slogans, no one held signs, it was just a group of people standing around photographing each other.” Yet, the place where civil society is stirring – in the environmental NGO community, there has been little coverage.

There are surprising moments of clarity. Once in a while, something happens which counters all of the above statements. For example, last week, I was trying to find information about whether water shortages would impose a barrier to large scale expansion of nuclear power capacity in China. None of my NGO contacts could answer the question. At the bottom of a Google rabbit hole I found some old pages of press releases issued by the Chinese Ministry of Water. They were translated into English and full of ridiculous typos but on each one there was a contact name and phone number for Minister of Water himself. I logged onto Skype and called the number. An eager and cheerful voice picked up after the first ring and answered every question I had quite satisfactorily.

No one seems to be able to predict China’s behavior. After the Soviets broke diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1956, many China experts predicted that Communist China would collapse, but they were wrong. Again, after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, foreign observers predicted that China would break apart like the Soviet Union and that it couldn’t withstand the economic isolation that happened as a result of the Tiananmen incident. Again, this didn’t pan out. In the 90s when China first started hitting 10% annual growth rates, economists swore that it couldn’t last beyond a couple years. But they were wrong. Something propels China forward that no one seems to have put their finger on.

I will let you know if I find it.

Both the US and China have pledged to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road in the next decade (see here and here). But are electric vehicles really better for the environment?

There is a common misconception that electric vehicles are carbon-neutral and that their impact on the environment is as non-offensive as the quiet sound of their humming engines.

But electricity doesn’t come from nowhere. To have a live outlet, tons of dirty coal (or sometimes natural gas or uranium) must be consumed at a power plant, generating electricity which then must be stored and transported to a building or charging station. This process is in and of itself a carbon intensive one. In the United States and China, the vast majority of the nation’s electricity is generated by coal, which, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has a much higher global warming potential than conventional vehicle fuels like diesel or gasoline.

So when we promote electric cars are we just shifting the emissions from the tail pipe to the power plant?

In the last three months, I have worked with my colleagues in China at the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation on a report commissioned by the United Nations on the life-cycle carbon impact of electric vehicles.

What we found may surprise many.

We found that pure battery electric vehicles may not always improve environmental impact of transport as much as we would like to expect; in fact, in some regions, electric vehicles are not an environmentally friendlier technology, particularly in terms of GHG emissions, because of the source of electricity which powers them.

Except for one region in China, compared with conventional vehicles, electric vehicles do not significantly reduce emissions – from a lifecycle point of view. After all, electric vehicles are an energy conversion and not a clean energy technology.

In order to generate data that reflects the lifecycle GHG emissions we look at the environmental impacts of a sequence of events in the fuel or battery’s life. For electric vehicles, we look at the emissions associated with the entire life of the battery from the mining of raw materials such as lithium, to the transportation and storage of energy to the disposal of waste material associated with the battery pack. This is what we call “Mine-to-Pack” emissions. For a conventional vehicle, we measure the emissions generated during the fuel’s life cycle, from the oil well to the tank, or “Well-to-Tank” emissions.

This analysis points to a clear implication for policy: Electric grids must be made more efficient or be more reliant on renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar.  This means replacing coal plants with renewable energy on a large scale, producing what many call a “smart grid.” If renewables aren’t commercially viable, then we need to install new technology to burn coal more cleanly or capture the emissions that come from coal. In the US and China (the world’s biggest coal-consuming countries) these are existing areas for government-led research and development.  But there is still a long way to go before so-called clean coal or renewable energy can be economically feasible in order to remake the electricity grids in either country to something we can call “smart.” Our report for the UN adds evidence to an existing pile that electricity grid reform should be priorities for both Washington and Beijing.

Last week John McCain, in a joint appearance with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, said that the US and Australia should work together to rein in China. “They have been acting very assertively in the region,” he said. “The fact is they are a rising power and they are a military power.”

“Now that doesn’t mean to me that there is going to be conflict,” he said, “ . . . but it does mean that Australia and the United States must ensure that basics like freedom of the seas are observed by the Chinese.”

McCain’s comments are eerily reminiscent of two bygone eras, in which there was talk of reining in China. The first is the era of post World War II anti-communism hysteria that mostly targeted the USSR ultimately culminating in the Cold War, but which was also pointed at China and lasted from the 1950s until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. The origins of the anti-China piece of this broad arc of history are laid out in mesmerizing detail in a chilling 1974 book written by an Australian Franz Schurmann called, “The Logic of World Power: An Inquiry into the Origins, Currents, and Contradictions of World Politics.” In it he traces the rise of the Taiwan Lobby – a  motley group of politicians, legislative aides, intelligence workers, academics and journalists, who cohere around a shared belief that China is a confrontational dictatorship whose economic prosperity and rise in power place it on a hostile collision course with the United States, and that ensuring the survival of pro-West Taiwan is crucial to US ideological dominance vis a vis Soviet communism. They were hostile toward both democrats and republicans, blaming them for being too soft on communist China and for “losing Beijing.” The book also follows the plight of the US Navy, which after becoming marginalized by the introduction of the nuclear bomb in the 1940s, (which of course fell into the domain of the Air Force), was a institution skirting degeneration, searching for a new modus operendi. Together the Taiwan Lobby and the Navy joined forces and while US diplomats averted nuclear war by masterminding a restrained policy of  “containment” against communist expansion, the Taiwan Lobby powered by the Navy pursued far less accommodating policies through covert operations aimed at rolling back communism in Asia. It’s a long story (and a great read) and by the end readers won’t be surprised by China’s unyielding righteousness after in 2001 a Navy spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over Hainan island in southern China. (One might ask: What was a Navy spy plane doing in southern China in the first place?)

The second era is more recent — George W. Bush’s era when “regime change” was the dominant trend in US foreign policy. The right flank of the right wing was particularly cantankerous about China and the old rhetoric of the Taiwan Lobby, silenced by the fall of the Soviet Union, resurfaced. Shortly after Bush visited Beijing in Spring of 2002 (I was there), Robert Kagan and William Kristol published an article in the Weekly Standard which stated that the “Bush Doctrine [as defined by the ‘axis of evil’] could help undo dictatorships not only in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, but also in, for example, China.” “George W. Bush is now a man with a mission,” they continued. “As it happens, it is America’s historic mission” [italics added].

Perhaps even in the era of dovish Obama, when words like “Regime Change” and “War on Terror” are out and “cooperation” “multilateralism” and “integrity” are in, an ideological spore from the past lives on in John McCain.

In the last few weeks I have felt an odd dark and complicated cloud pass over me. At the same time, many of my Sino-file friends have fallen silent, a sharp change for the usual gregarious bunch who are known for their ability to suddenly launch into their specific version of the China-rising theory without warning (or prompting in some cases). I am included in this bunch. I suddenly don’t know what to say about China. And I realized the other day what the problem is: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Wisconsin.

In single-party, authoritarian China, why haven’t the citizens jumped onto the revolutionary bandwagon that has traveled from Cairo to Madison?

Twenty years ago students joined hands around a giant paper mache replica of the Statue of Liberty in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square demanding a free press and American-style human rights only to be brutally pummeled by China’s People’s Liberation Army. But in today’s China, political passion has been smudged out by get-rich aspirations as many Chinese ride the wave of economic growth in that country.

Yet China remains in many ways a repressive state. The government controls where people live, how many children they have and what news and information they have access to. There are no formal channels to file complaints. Child laborers work 15 hour days 7 days a week with only two bathroom breaks. Corruption runs rampant.  People die every day from toxic water and unbreathable air. And citizens who try to speak out against their government are blackmailed or jailed without a trial. Journalists who stray from the status quo end up getting their hands cut off by mysterious thugs in the middle of the night. Activists are “harmonized” (aka disappear).

Like in Egypt, the cost of food and housing in China is rising rapidly stretching a working person’s wallet to a dehumanizing degree. Egyptians and Chinese are both watching vast amounts of wealth flow into their country and disproportionately to the wealthy as the gap between rich and poor widens. If these conditions set the stage for revolution in Cairo, why not in Beijing?

Something did happen in Beijing. A sort of non-event, I guess.  A planned “Jasmine Revolution” was scheduled by unknown organizers to take place last Saturday in front of the McDonalds in Beijing’s equivalent of the Champs Elysee, a pedestrians shopping street a couple blocks from Tiananmen Square called Wangfujing. The problem was that no one showed up except foreign correspondents and police.  As one observer noted: “No one shouted slogans, no one held signs, it was just a group of people standing around photographing each other.”

So why didn’t the revolutionary fervor spread to China? One blogger explains that “discontent towards the government in China hasn’t translated into meaningful opposition.” Another blogger argues that Chinese people don’t protest their government because they are afraid that no government will only lead to chaos. The general consensus within the China blogosphere (with the notable exception of this post from the Wall Street Journal) is that Egypt in not China.

These are good points. One additional reason might be that there is a difference between big “D” American style democracy and little “d” democracy. Big Democracy clings to the ideals of civic and political rights, private property, individualism and the rule of law. Little democracy is less dogmatic and it revolves around political participation, social and economic rights and rising the standard of living. I would argue that while the Chinese Communist Party has rejected Big Democracy for years, it is making notable shifts in the direction of society marked by transparency, rights and political participation China style.

For example, last year Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for freedom of the press in a CNN interview. He continued, “The people’s wishes for, and needs for, democracy and freedom are irresistible.” Chinese Environmental Policy Czar, Xie Zhenhua, made a historic shift in Chinese government policy in October when he called on non-governmental organizations to play a constructive role in policy making. In December of 2010, over 200 Chinese NGOs attended a UN summit on climate change and lobbied their government to take a firmer stand against climate change with much of the freedom and determination of their Western counterparts.

China’s gradual changes may not move people to tears, inspire art (like it did for my god-mother in Cairo) or cause people to swing from lamp posts and sing national anthems but there are important political shifts taking place. They may not be the events that draw the foreign correspondents, but they are real, important and meaningful.

By Lucia Green-Weiskel

As China bids farewell to the Year of the Tiger and rings in the Year of the Rabbit this month many Americans are wondering: Is China eclipsing the US and taking over as the world’s new superpower? In last year’s midterm election, 29 candidates (from both parties) were afraid that was the case. Each one included anti-China messages in advertising campaigns claiming that their opponents were too timid against a menacing and rising China. Glenn Beck thinks China will overtake the US to become the largest economy in the next decade and we should be very afraid. Coming on the heels of his state summit with Chinese president Hu Jintao, Obama’s State of the Union address was full of implicit and explicit China comparisons. “China is building faster trains and newer airports,” he said. “Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a ‘D.’” One particular area where China is steaming ahead is energy. Thomas Friedman and Energy Secretary Steve Chu have both referenced a new Sputnik moment, drawing a comparison between today’s US-China clean technology race and the notorious US-Soviet space race of the Cold War.

On the energy and technology front, what has China been up to in the last year?  What follows is a list of China’s achievements in the Year of the Tiger, in numbers:

Breaking World Records:
In the last year, China:
— overtook the US as the world’s largest car market (this actually happened in late 2009).
— overtook Germany to become the world’s largest exporter.
— overtook Japan to become the world’s No. 2 economy.
— built a passenger bullet train that set a new record hitting 302 mph.
— built the world’s longest bridge over water.
— held foreign exchange reserves that hit a world record in 2010 at $2.5 trillion.
— set a record when the Agricultural Bank of China IPO hit $22.1 billion in July.

Selling Stuff:
In keeping with past years, China sold a lot of stuff in the Year of the Tiger. China’s role as the “factory of the world” has catapulted it to the top as both the world’s largest energy consumer and emitter of greenhouse gases (although this has been true since 2006, China only admitted it last year.) With just 20% of the world’s population, China sold:

95% of the world’s rare earths (used to make electronics).
90% of the vitamin C consumed in the US and 70% of the world’s penicillin.
80% of the world’s laptops (including Taiwan).
of the world’s garlic supply.
70% of the world’s light bulbs, toys and footwear.
70% of the world’s metal lighters come from one city, Wenzhou.
70% of the world’s violins.
70% of the world’s sex toys.
60% of the world’s neckties are made in Zhejiang province.
55% of the world’s solar panels.
50% of the world’s wind turbines.
50% of the world’s cameras.
44% of the world’s cement.
40% of the world’s coal (but accounts for 80% of the world’s coal mining related fatalities).
30% of the world’s air conditioners and televisions.
25% of the world’s washing machines.
and Chinese vehicle sale grew by 40% to reach 17 million units.

It is important to look at these numbers in context. Although China is the largest energy consumer and emitter of greenhouse gases, it has a much smaller energy footprint on a per capita and an historic basis. One American consumes five times the energy of one Chinese. Although China is emitting greenhouse gases at a faster rate today, a great majority of the emissions in the air are the result of the American and European industrial revolutions. Finally, nearly one-quarter of China’s greenhouse gas emissions are directly sourced to products that are exported to the West.

Setting Ambitious Policies:
In the last year, China launched a set of ambitious carbon-reducing policies, which if implemented, could amount to the greatest carbon avoidance in the world. The 12th Five Year Plan (covering 2011-2015) will include a reiteration and formal commitment to reduce the energy intensity of the Chinese economy by 40%-45% from 2005 levels by 2020. The plan also includes measures to increase reliance on renewable energy. Some officials have claimed renewable sources could make up 20% of China’s total energy use (that number does not include nuclear energy). The US and China are neck-and-neck on electric vehicles. Both countries have pledged to have one million EVs on the road in the next decade (see here and here). The table below shows key projects and the tonnage of carbon equivalent that was saved as a result of the energy savings goals in the 11th Five Year Plan (2006-2010).

Source: LBNL estimates and calculations based on National Development and Reform Commission (NRDC), 2006. Implementation Suggestions of Ten Key Energy-Conservation Projects during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, NDRC Department of Resource Conservation and Environmental Protection Document #: [2006] 1457.  Accessed on Feb. 14 at www.chinafaqs.org/library/chinafaqs-chinas-ten-key-energy-efficiency-projects

Under the 12th Five Year Plan, China will begin to implement a national cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases, something that was a high priority during the Obama presidential campaign, but which has turned into a political flop in Washington. And there are hundreds of new standards and regulations put into effect every month in Beijing to increase the energy efficiency of appliances, buildings, fuels and vehicles. For example, below is a chart of fuel economy standards for vehicles in different regions around the world. China ranks below the EU and Japan, but ahead of the US and Canada.

Source: Dr. Feng An, Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation, ©2011.

All this must be taken with a pinch of salt. While China is encroaching on the US in key technological areas, it is far from unseating the world’s superpower. Other key indicators demonstrate this. For example, China’s military is Lilliputian compared with the US. Last year China’s military budget was $77.97 billion, less than one-eighth of the US’s $663.8 billion budget. And the US economy still towers over the world: US nominal GDP in 2010 was $14.62 trillion to China’s $5.76 trillion.

China remains firmly in the category of a “developing” country. With a population five times larger than the US, per capita GDP (PPP) was $7,400 in 2010 ranking it 127th in the world according to the CIA World Fact Book (the same GDP measurement for the US was $47,400, the 10th highest in the world). While 76.7% of the US GDP comes from the service sector, over half (56.4%) of the GDP in China comes from industry and agriculture. The lesson here is that while China is making big strides, it is still a developing economy and far behind the US in key areas. China might have the fastest computer, but it is one of the only countries in the world which still manufactures the ox-drawn plow.

By Lucia Green-Weiskel and Tina Gerhardt

Originally Published in the Huffington Post

The most concrete goods delivered by last week’s bilateral state summit between President Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao came not from heads of state but from CEOs, as US and China-based businesses signed a deal through which China agreed to buy $45 billion worth of American exports.

President Obama argued that these deals would create jobs the U.S. but as Robert Reich reported, that’s not exactly right: “It will create more profits for American companies but relatively few new jobs.”

“Clean energy” companies signed most of the deals. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Brookings Institution and the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy hosted a series of meetings on the “US-China Strategic Forum on Clean Energy Cooperation” in conjunction with the summit.

China’s VIPs included CEOs from the largest coal and nuclear companies: Wang Binghua from State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation; Zhu Yongpeng from Guodian Corporation, one of China’s largest energy companies; and Zhang Xiwu from Shenhua Group, China’s largest coal company. US guests of honor included James E. Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy; Aris Candris, CEO of Westinghouse; and Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power.

A number of agreements and memorandums of understanding came out of these meetings. GE signed a letter of intent with China Ministry of Railways, expanding on a preexisting agreement to bring China’s technology to the US, in order to build high-speed railways — a goal mentioned in Obama’s State of the Union address.

US-based Westinghouse Electric signed a memorandum of understanding with two of China’s leading nuclear power companies, in order to develop nuclear power capacity in both countries.

Several companies, including U.S.’s Duke Energy and China’s ENN Group, signed agreements to develop and implement “clean coal” technology.

Companies that were given a presidential nod when they were invited to the White House’s Wednesday evening state dinner for Hu included Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Chase, Microsoft, Boeing, the Carlyle Group and GE.

GE’s position of influence has grown, not only through the letter of intent it signed with China, but also because — amidst the US-China summit — President Obama appointed GE CEO Jeff Immelt to head his economic advisory panel, a position formerly held by Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker.

During the forum co-hosted by the Brookings Institute and the China Institute Innovation and Development, last week US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and his counterpart Zhang Guobao from China’s National Energy Administration hosted a signing ceremony for the US-China Clean Energy Research Center.

A $150 million dollar initiative of the US’s Department of Energy and China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the center will facilitate mutually beneficial agreements between US and Chinese companies and will focus on energy efficiency, clean coal and electric vehicles.

Events associated with the ceremony emphasized more how to use fossil energies efficiently and less how to connect renewable energy to the grid. Clean technologies and renewable energy were crowded into one session, cut short when Chinese investors stated that the US does not invite investment in clean technologies and renewable energy: it sends inconsistent policy signals and lacks incentives for the development of renewable energy.

Signs affirming that China’s policies for investment in renewable energy are more coherent and long term than the US’s have been evident in recent weeks. Solar panel maker Evergreen announced recently that it would shutter its main plant in Massachusetts, laying off 800 workers, and moving production to China. The reason? China’s government provided much higher subsidies of solar energy.http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/business/energy-environment/15solar.html

Earlier this week, the American Wind Energy Association announced that China has become the leader in wind energy capacity, seizing the lead from the US. According to the wind industry, US wind power in the US is hampered by uneven incentives: a lack of consistent and reliable federal policies on and subsidies for renewable energy.

Instead of taking the opportunity to up the ante of a US commitment to renewable energy by setting strong policy signals, Obama has largely left energy discussion to CEOs. The announcement on Monday of the departure of Carol Browner, his senior climate and energy policy adviser, has only increased concerns among environmental groups about the president’s commitment to passing a climate bill, establishing a nationwide renewable portfolio standard (RPS). (China, like the EU, has established renewable targets. The U.S. has yet to set such domestic targets.)

While partisan divides are cutting deeper into American politics, one area where the left and right seem to get along is China bashing.

Pundits from both the right and the left accused Obama of coddling a dictator, pointing to the lavishness of the state dinner, Michelle Obama’s “commie” red dress and Sasha Obama’s eagerness to learn Chinese as evidence.

From Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to Human Rights Watch and from Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner to Rush Limbaugh, the message was clear: China abuses human rights and is stealing our jobs.

In his State of the Union address, Obama stated that subsidies for oil companies will end and that the US will get 80% of its energy from clean sources by 2035. Without aggressive government investment and strong policy signals, it remains unclear how to get from here to there.

Tina Gerhardt is an academic and journalist.
Her writing has appeared in Grist, The Huffington Post, In These Times and The Nation.

Lucia Green-Weiskel is Project Manager of the Climate Change Program at the Beijing-based independent Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation (iCET).  Her work has appeared in Chinadialogue.net, Grist, The Huffington Post and The Nation.

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By Lucia Green-Weiskel and Tina Gerhardt

Originally Published on Alternet

In China, a race toward self-reliance and clean energy technology is certainly on, but the U.S. still needs to make some key changes if it wants to compete.

Next week, January 19 to 21, President Obama will host Chinese President Hu Jintao for their first bilateral summit this side of the Pacific. According to former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, this “will be the most important top-level United States-Chinese encounter since Deng Xiaoping’s historic trip more than 30 years ago.” While economic and military issues will be on the agenda, a key part of the meeting will be energy. U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has suggested that a Sputnik-like race for clean energy between China and the U.S. may be emerging. If so, how can the U.S. get in the game, given the current political climate in the country?

U.S.-China relations have been rocky over the past two years. At the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, China and the U.S. wound up at a standoff in the summit’s final hours.

Tensions hinge on who should take responsibility for the bulk of the emissions. The U.S. blames China, a growing economy and the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, while China blames the U.S., the largest emitter historically and the larger emitter on a per capita basis, by far.

The original UNFCCC charter from 1992 stipulates that developed nations, such as the US, lead the world in fighting climate change, since they bear historical responsibility for producing it. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol echoes and expands this concept, calling on countries to act with “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which means while all nations are “responsible,” each nation acts according to its ability based on its level of development.

This statement has caused considerable tension between the U.S. and China. While the U.S. rejects “common but differentiated responsibility” and insists that China must step up to the plate, China believes that developed countries should take the lead.

From recent UN negotiations in both Copenhagen and Cancún, it is clear that the U.S. wants an agreement that has “symmetry” — one that includes reductions commitments from developed and developing countries. China, for its part, is willing to make voluntary commitments but insists that the U.S. sign on to a legally binding agreement.

Additionally, concerns at the UN climate talks revolve around how emissions reductions commitments will be monitored, reported and verified.

Closely linked to the energy issue is the problem of economic protectionism. Last September, the U.S. United Steelworkers (USW) filed a 5,800-page complaint against China with the U.S. Trade Representative, arguing that its renewable energy subsidies violated international trade regulations. The complaint followed on the heels of a call by environmental groups and politicians for higher tariffs to be imposed on China-produced high carbon imports.

In December, Obama sided with the United Steelworkers, filing a complaint with the WTO against China’s wind power subsidies and leaving Chinese officials feeling snubbed and victims of a no-win American policy.

According to Dale Jiajun Wen, a scholar at the California-based International Forum on Globalization: “The recent complaints filed by the U.S. union have further consolidated the impression by many Chinese that the U.S. has no real concern for the climate but is only using it as a China-bashing tool. The inconsistency of the U.S. climate and trade policy is too obvious to ignore.”

The protectionist tendencies continue unabated: Last week, Obama signed a military authorization law that includes a “Buy American” clause, prohibiting the U.S. Department of Defense from purchasing solar panels made in China and undoubtedly dismaying Chinese officials.

Given these tensions, it remains to be seen what agreement the U.S. and China will reach at the upcoming Washington summit. Last week, Obama announced a shuffle in his Asia and China teams at the National Security Council and State Department in an attempt to hit the reset button on U.S.-China relations.

And Energy Secretary Chu recently framed the new relationship between the U.S. and China as a “Sputnik Moment.” Referencing the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, which demonstrated its technological advantage and led to the Cold War-era space race, Chu warned that the U.S. risks falling behind China in the clean technology race.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke already noticed this trend in 2009 when he said, “Ten to fifteen years from now, we’re going to be saying, ‘How did Shanghai become the Silicon Valley of clean energy?'”

Yet whether this new clean technology race pits the U.S. against China competitively, as the Cold War-era space race did, or allows for scientific partnerships between the U.S. and China remains an open question.

The new joint U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC), which will be featured at next week’s meeting, forms one sign of collaboration. The center will facilitate joint research and development on clean energy. Priority topics include building efficiency, clean coal, carbon capture and storage, and clean vehicles. Despite this sign of cooperation, the U.S. and China have exhibited remarkably different approaches to the development of clean technology and how to transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one predominantly reliant on renewable energy.

Although historically China has relied on coal and hydropower for its electricity, it is investing in renewable energy at breakneck speed.

Currently, 70 percent of China’s economy is coal-powered. But policy changes are afoot. Although it is not an official figure yet, China’s energy bureaucrats seek to drop coal reliance from 69 to 63 percent by 2015. According to Zhang Guobao, Director of China’s National Energy Administration, China has saved more than 300 million tons of coal in the past five years by replacing dirty and outdated thermal power plants.

Another new policy puts forth that 15 percent of China’s energy must be derived from renewable energy. In addition, China’s new energy policies focus on energy efficiency compliance, considered a green technology in China.

China’s ramped up clean technology also draws on renewable energy. A 2007 report released by the World Watch Institute stated that “China has become a global leader in renewable energy.” Its renewable energy sources encompass biomass energy (derived from sugarwastes and rice husks) and biofuel (produced mainly from corn), as well as solar and wind power. (In China, nuclear energy is not included as a renewable as it is in the U.S.)

Overall, China is the world’s biggest manufacturer of solar panels. Suntech Power in Wuxi is the world’s third largest producer of solar power. Moreover, while China produced 50 percent of the world’s solar panels in 2010 it receives about 2 percent of its total energy from solar. Under new aggressive government plans for investment in renewable energy, however, this number will likely grow rapidly. In Rizhao, a city in northern China, 99 percent of households use solar water heaters.

Recently, an Arizona-based company, First Solar Inc. signed a deal with China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Co., a Chinese state-owned energy company to build one of the world’s largest solar power facilities in Inner Mongolia.

Wind power has also seen dramatic increases in China in the past five to six years. The wind industry has doubled in size each year since 2004. And as the New York Times reported just this week: “More than three times as much wind power capacity was installed in China last year than in the United States.”

Here, too, policy played a strong role. Greenpeace’s Li Yan told AlterNet that “a law required that 70 percent of wind had to be manufactured domestically. This stipulation helped to create jobs and to boost China’s wind power, which has overtaken other previous leaders, such as Denmark, Spain and Germany to take the number one spot.”

Challenges to China’s wind economy remain. According to Li Yan, “If one talks about the installation capacity, China will probably be number one by the end of this year or next year, but if we talk about wind energy that has been connected, then we are still far behind.” While installation occurs more quickly, connecting, according to Li Yan, remains slowed by the centralized state owned energy structure, which has created a bottleneck.

Li Yan’s concern pinpoints one of the potential pitfalls of the China’s implementation strategies: strong policies at the central level do not always translate well into solid implementation at the regional level.

In March, China will release the 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015), which will set new renewable energy targets. The plan calls for deep cuts in energy-intensity and large subsidies to bring renewable energy and electric vehicles to scale. It includes both a cap and trade program and carbon taxes. And it requires utilities companies meet energy-saving targets and invest electricity revenues in renewable energy. Additionally, China has announced that it will produce a nation-wide greenhouse gas inventory by 2012 — its first since 1994. Producing such an inventory of greenhouse gases requires a sophisticated ability to measure emissions from a variety of sources.

While implementation remains a challenge, many of these targets are being met. For example, China’s National Development and Reform Commission recently announced that it will meet its target of reducing total pollution by 10 percent from 2005 to 2010. Last year, the Chinese government ordered blackouts in many parts of China in order to meet another target to reduce energy intensity by 20 percent by 2010 from 2005 levels.

Thus in China, a race toward self-reliance and clean energy technology is certainly on, even if it the Sputnik Moment race itself is a U.S. construct. Chu, like China, seems to be taking the long view of the environmental and economic situation.

In the U.S., renewable energy still needs to be made cost competitive. A number of measures could help to develop and make renewable energy affordable: 1) feed-in-tariffs; 2) subsidies; 3) tax credits; and 4) state regulations provide renewable portfolio standards (RPS), that is, demand that a specific percentage of their energy, typically 4-30 percent, be derived from renewable energy sources by a specific date.

A feed-in-tariff system — the first of these incentives — allows homeowners, who have installed solar panels, to sell back to their utility company the excess amount of energy produced, thereby reducing their overall electric bill. As of 2009, 11 states were considering legislation to permit feed-in-tariffs in the U.S.

Subsidies in the United States often heavily favor fossil fuels. This predilection leaves renewable energy, which has been growing nonetheless, artificially gummed up in the U.S. Subsidies for renewable energy could encourage a shift in the base.

Tax credits for production of renewable energy are also extremely beneficial. Thus far, growth in wind farms has been astronomical as a result of the Recovery Act or tax credit 1603.

Michigan is second nationwide for wind manufacturing and just announced another new plant. Its success comes as a direct result of grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. Additionally, Recovery Act funds help businesses diversify into clean energy through the Clean Energy Advanced Manufacturing program. And a state law enacted by Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2008 requires 10 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2015. Due to these subsidies and laws, the U.S. Department of Energy projects that Michigan will create 30,000 more jobs in the wind-manufacturing sector.

The results of all this investment into wind in the U.S. are already upon us. Texas, Iowa and California lead the country in installed wind capacity. To date, 20 percent of all energy in Iowa comes from wind; it marks the largest growth over the past year. In Texas, 25 percent of all energy comes from wind power. Wind farms in the Southwest and off the coast in the Atlantic have also ramped renewable energy sources. Across the country, wind as a source of renewable energy has increased four-fold over the past decade.

During the UN negotiations in Cancún, it was announced that the Recovery Act 1603 tax credit for renewable energy would not be extended. Peter Kelley, of the American Wind Energy Association, told AlterNet, “what this means is that the growth we have seen in wind in the past few years, which grew 20 percent in 2008 and 40 percent in 2009, is set to decrease by 45 percent due to the expiration of this tax credit.”

Kelley is not only concerned about the environment. He sees the relationship between renewable energy and the economy, and specifically, job opportunities. “The wind energy industry,” he added, “kept 85,000 people in jobs during this economic recession. As a result of this tax credit expiring, tens of thousands of layoffs will occur.”

Yet Kelley’s view that tax subsidies produce jobs differs sharply from the views of some Republicans who took control of the House of Representatives last week and were quick to dissolve the Global Warming Committee, established by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA) in 2007. They refer to the national energy tax not as job inducing but as a “job-killing national energy tax.”

“We have pledged to save taxpayers’ money by reducing waste and duplication in Congress,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “The Select Committee on Global Warming — which was created to provide a political forum to promote Washington Democrats’ job-killing national energy tax — was a clear example, and it will not continue in the 112th Congress.”

It remains to be seen what results Chu’s ramped-up program will have for the economy and the environment. Given last week’s changes in the Obama administration and at the helm of the House, will the Department of Energy be able to ring in a new era committed to clean technology and renewable energy? Will it be able to be competitive in a renewable energy race?

In light of Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington, the Sputnik Moment proclaimed by Chu could herald either a new era of cooperation, or of competition.

Tina Gerhardt is an academic and journalist whose writing has appeared in Grist, The Huffington Post, In These Times and The Nation. Lucia Green-Weiskel is Project Manager of the Climate Change Program at the Beijing-based independent Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation (ICET). Her work has appeared in Chinadialogue.net, Grist and The Nation.

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/149507/

originally published in The Nation here.

Lucia Green-Weiskel | December 16, 2010

Just after 3 am on the last day of the UN climate change conference, exhausted negotiators from 193 countries signed an agreement that was modest and reflected elements of desperation (the one country refusing to sign, Bolivia, decried what it called “a hollow and false victory” that would fail “to prevent runaway climate change”). After the failure last year in Copenhagen, the UN-led talks were falling apart, with some beginning to suggests that the issue be handled outside the UN, either by bottom-up approaches or in more elite groups like the G-20. The Cancún Agreements are significantly less ambitious than what many observers had hoped for, but at least they avoided collapse. The failure in Copenhagen and Cancún to agree on binding emissions-reduction targets marks a significant scaling back from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first and only international agreement to set legally binding targets.

In lieu of binding targets, the Cancún Agreements address technical issues like transfers of green technology to developing countries and a reiteration of the domestic reduction plans initiated in previous talks. The documents postpone, until next year’s conference in Durban, South Africa, the contentious issue of whether to extend Kyoto, which expires in 2012. Instead they call for establishing a $100 billion fund to help developing countries adapt to climate change. But that fund will be managed by the World Bank, which has a dismal record on environmental protection. And it is still not clear where the money will come from.

“It is not what is ultimately required, but it is the essential foundation on which to build greater, collective ambition,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN process, formally known as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Between pleas for progress, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had to resort to a tired cliché to describe the mood: “We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” By producing an agreement, the Cancún delegates partially restored the credibility lost at Copenhagen.

A key question about Cancún was whether the world’s biggest emitters, the United States and China, would come any closer to a common understanding on who is responsible for the climate problem and what to do about it. The two countries together account for 30 percent of the world’s economic output and 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. The US and Chinese negotiators at Cancún were crafty and subtle. Both teams used cautious language that on the surface appeared to present similar positions. Both wanted a deal and both wanted to be seen as playing a constructive role—but each saw the other as an obstruction to progress.

When Dr. Yang Fuqiang, director of Global Climate Solutions for WWF International, arrived in Cancún, his hopes were dim that the United States and China would reach a meaningful agreement on reductions. With more than thirty years of experience working on energy and environmental issues in China, Yang has attended the three most recent of the UN’s sixteen rounds of climate negotiations. China, he said, would only accept an agreement that allowed exemptions for developing countries—the concept known as “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which is the bedrock of the Kyoto Protocol. In this claim, China is aligned with Article 3.1 of the UNFCCC charter, which states, “The developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.”

Throughout the meetings, the US deputy special envoy for climate change, Jonathan Pershing, expressed plans to scrap Kyoto—not surprising, since the United States is the only developed country that has not signed it. Washington wanted to draft a new agreement that has “symmetry”—one that is legally binding for developed and developing countries. As Pershing explained in a briefing to NGOs, the Obama administration can’t sell a package in Congress that doesn’t include specific requirements for developing countries like China.

By the end of the conference, it was clear that both delegations were oriented toward domestic regulators more than anything else. The chief negotiators, Xie Zhenhua and Todd Stern, read the same document but reported on it in completely different ways. Xie told China’s Xinhua news agency that the Cancún Agreements uphold the Kyoto Protocol and reaffirm the principle of differentiated responsibilities. Stern told a press conference that the Cancún Agreements build on the 2009 Copenhagen Accord (widely viewed as the document that undoes Kyoto) and reflect progress toward firmer commitments from all nations, developed and developing.

From the beginning, the UNFCCC process has been marred by a sharp divide between developed and developing countries. Key developed countries hold the view that the developing world, where energy consumption is accelerating, should be bound by firm targets. The position of the developing countries, which China firmly promotes, distinguishes between luxury emissions and sustenance emissions, arguing that the latter are required for economic development and to alleviate pressing problems such as poverty and inadequate infrastructure.

In Copenhagen Chinese negotiators were eager to point out that although China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases on an annual basis, its per capita emissions remain much lower than those of America (and America is still the world’s largest climate polluter on a cumulative, or historic, basis). In addition, they point out, almost a quarter of China’s emissions come from the manufacture of products sold in the West, a fact that leads many in China to argue for a consumption-based rather than a production-based approach to emissions quantification. Given this different view of the accounting process, China prefers to use its own domestic mechanisms to set and meet targets outside the UN system.

US-China tension erupted during the debate over measuring and verifying emissions. In UN parlance this is called MRV, or measuring, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions. MRV, where the treaty details are actually spelled out, is what gives the agreement meaning and power and thus is also the area that can cause the greatest turbulence. It is to climate change what the 1040 is to taxes, an agreed methodology that makes clear what is and what isn’t included in a carbon footprint, at the individual, corporate or national level. Too technical for nonexperts, MRV helps standardize quantification and ensures that a ton of CO2 in France is equal to a ton of CO2 in China or the United States.

The United States and China have agreed on how to do the M (using criteria established by the International Organization for Standardization) and the R (with domestic mechanisms and answering to local or central governments). But there is serious dispute over verification, and who has the authority to determine what constitutes an “avoided” ton of carbon—that is, carbon that would have been released into the atmosphere but was not because of national policies that promoted cleaner technology. The United States insists that emissions reductions not transparent and verified by international inspectors are not valid. For China, this is an example of how the United States has politicized the climate talks. Beijing views calls for inspections and “more transparency” as an infringement of its sovereignty and alleges ulterior motives aimed at destabilizing its government. From China’s perspective, the US demands on verification are less about climate change than about the American establishment’s desire for China to adopt Western-style democracy and transparency.

The tension was evident at an intercessional meeting in Tianjin in October, when Xie’s deputy, Su Wei, met with his US counterparts. In Copenhagen, Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei had said Stern “lacked common sense.” In Tianjin, the vitriol continued when Su said Stern (in absentia) was like a “pig preening itself in the mirror,” a reference from an ancient Chinese legend that implies hypocrisy and gluttony. (I was later told by a Chinese friend that this episode was misunderstood in the US media and that two different but similar idioms were confused.)

Perhaps it was the paradisiacal quality of the turquoise beaches and the ubiquitous margaritas, but there was clearly a warming of relations at Cancún. Yang Ailun of Greenpeace noted that the Chinese delegation chose to focus on what it could offer rather than what it would oppose. This new posture marks a clear departure from its negotiating style at Copenhagen and Tianjin. But the new tactics do not reflect a new position. China’s stance in Cancún—that its voluntary reductions could be part of a global agreement if the United States adopts a legally binding commitment—is a new arrangement of its previous position. The fact that the United States, given its domestic political climate, will probably not adopt a legally binding agreement renders the Chinese offer moot. It shows, however, that China is becoming a more sophisticated negotiator and more adept at public relations.

Su Wei, second in command of the Chinese delegation after Xie, opened the conference by declaring that China would play a “constructive role” in the talks. In the first week he announced that the differences between the United States and China were not significant. Then, to the shock of many, he said casually, “We have no problem with MRV.” This statement struck many as a reversal of China’s Copenhagen position, which had been vigorously against the MRV process. But, as Yang explained to me, when the United States and China speak about the MRV process, they have different ideas about what it means—and it is precisely these differences that prevent agreement on the fundamental issues of climate change.

To find out more about the MRV process, I talked with Lo Sze Ping, who has worked on China’s climate policies with Greenpeace and on greenhouse gas accounting with the Beijing-based Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology. Lo attended the Cancún conference as a member of Green China: Race to the Future, a consortium of Chinese and international NGOs, including Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which are raising awareness about the importance of climate change. In Cancún, they published a position paper calling on the Chinese and other governments to take stronger action to fight climate change. “China is playing hard on the MRV issues technically not because they are against it but because this is the issue where the United States is poking China,” Lo explained. “From China’s point of view, there are two issues.

The first is the issue of not making MRV references to finance and technology. The US demands aren’t backed with money. It is entirely unclear where the financial resources will come from to support the reductions that the developed world is asking of developing countries. The developed countries are pressuring developing countries to become more transparent, but the issue of funding from developed countries is far from transparent.” Indeed, developed countries have not been clear about where the
$30 billion in fast-track funds will come from or how they will be allocated. Although promised in Copenhagen for the period of 2010–12, less than half of the money has materialized.

“The second issue,” Lo continued, “is that developing countries are not happy with the insufficient ambitions from developed countries regarding their own reduction plans for the medium term [up to 2020]. What is on the table from developed countries does not add up to what is required by science.” This point leads China to believe that the United States is not willing to accept its share of climate responsibility. “Developed countries didn’t show sincerity in their response, and now they are asking the developing countries, like China, to do more than what is required by the Kyoto Protocol,” said Lo.

And this is where MRV comes in. The United States understands that process as a rigorous mechanism for reductions that should be applied in the same way to all countries, developed and developing. In the US view, MRV should have universal application, in which international inspectors with official access to the domestic activities of a country can verify reports of reduced emissions. Chinese negotiators view the US interpretation of MRV as a way of reversing the “common but differentiated responsibilities” clause in the Kyoto Protocol. “China believes we should not be renegotiating the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol; instead, we should stick to the Kyoto Protocol and negotiate just the second commitment period targets for each country,” Lo explained. “MRV could be used as the Trojan horse to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol.” For China, the MRV process functions as a domestic tool to quantify and verify emissions and reductions—an accounting instrument that China has already adopted. To Beijing, MRV and “differentiated responsibilities” are not mutually exclusive.

After sixteen climate change meetings, beginning with the first conference in Berlin in 1995, the United States and China are still unable to get beyond the dilemma of how to quantify emissions and determine who is responsible for reducing them. To progress, the United States would have to show China it has adopted a national plan for emissions reductions, such as cap and trade. As long as America forgoes domestic climate legislation, China is likely to doubt the sincerity of US action. Now, with recent GOP victories in Congress—86 percent of the incoming Republicans oppose government action on climate change—and noise from Tea Partiers (only 8 percent of whom believe global warming is caused by human activity), the United States appears to be retreating from climate legislation.

While US green ambitions are shrinking, China is reorienting its economy toward sustainability and renewable energy in a way that is nothing short of revolutionary. It has invested billions in renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transportation (the Chinese bullet train made headlines by reaching a record 300 mph during the Cancún talks) and developing standards for products, buildings, vehicles and fuels. In July Xie announced that a cap-and-trade system would be included in China’s twelfth five-year plan (2011–15). In September China’s most powerful agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, announced that China was setting up low-carbon pilot sites in five provinces and eight cities. One focus is to implement methods to measure, report and verify emissions. These events are an indication that China’s lead over the United States in green technology will likely increase in the coming years.

Green technology is still a boutique industry in the United States, while China is producing it on a massive scale. Through aggressive government investment and central planning, Beijing has become a leader in solar panel technology, wind turbines and electric vehicle manufacturing. In fact, it is emerging as the only country in the world capable of driving down the price of green technology so that it can become affordable in poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

However, China’s government-led policies have met with hostility in the United States. Earlier this year the United Steelworkers filed a 5,800-page complaint with US trade representatives, stating that China’s subsidies of green technology were illegal and unfair. From the Chinese perspective, this is a no-win paradigm: if China doesn’t invest in a cleaner economy, US lawmakers threaten to slap a high-carbon tariff on Chinese imports. But if China takes the environmental issue seriously and invests in renewable energy, US lawmakers threaten to punish China for “unfair” trade practices. Without prospects for a US-led agreement for emissions reductions at the UN, China has become a scapegoat in the US media and among US politicians. China-bashing is at an all-time high. In the recent midterm elections, an astonishing twenty-nine candidates used anti-China messages in campaign ads.

Dr. Dale Jiajun Wen is a Chinese citizen who watched the US-China negotiations from San Francisco, where she is China Scholar at the International Forum on Globalization. “The US failed to pass crucial climate legislation. Meanwhile, it has been seeking to divert attention away from its own failures by pointing fingers at China,” she says. “The Chinese people are asking the US to stop using China as an excuse for its own inaction.

“China is very serious about its targets,” she continues. “In recent months, in the final push to achieve its domestic energy efficiency target for the eleventh five-year plan, not only were some factories shut down but also some residential areas experienced blackouts. Have any Annex 1 [developed] countries had blackouts in order to comply with Kyoto targets? Yet in most discussions about transparency in Western media, China is presumed guilty. In Bali [the thirteenth climate change conference, in 2007], the United States was told, ‘If you are not willing to lead, then get out of the way.’ To give it fair credit, the Bush government did get out of the way and allowed the world to move forward with the Bali Action Plan. Now it is again time to ask the United States to get out of the way if it cannot lead.”

Check out my half-hour interview on Doug Henwood’s show Behind the News. Click here to stream or download podcast.

Recent article in Grist co-authored with Tina Gerhardt

see original post here

Last week, in a move that pits American labor against China’s green-technology industry, the Obama administration filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization over China’s wind-power subsidies.

The U.S. move challenges China’s rapid growth in the renewable-energy market, and also throws the weight of the administration behind the unions, elevating concern about Chinese competition to the level of official U.S. policy.

The complaint falls on the heels of a 5,800-page filing made in September by the United Steelworkers against China, arguing that its renewable-energy subsidies violate international trade regulations. According to that filing, China defied trade agreements by providing land grants and low-interest loans in order to produce clean technology at artificially low prices.

Both complaints ignore the fact that energy industries all over the world benefit from government subsidies. In the U.S. and Europe, the nuclear and fossil-fuel industries get massive public subsidies. And as a percentage of GDP, Spain and the U.K. pump funding at levels similar to China’s into green subsidies.

China sharply rejects allegations that its rapidly growing solar-panel and wind-turbine manufacturing efforts defy WTO trade regulations.

Beijing dismisses the attacks as another example of China-bashing, which rose to new heights in the U.S. during the recent 2010 midterm elections, when no fewer than 29 congressional and gubernatorial candidates pushed anti-China messages in campaign ads. In October, The Wall Street Journal reported that “China is emerging as a bogeyman this campaign season, with candidates across the American political spectrum seizing on anxieties about the country’s growing economic might to pummel each other on trade, outsourcing and the deficit.”

The Obama administration appears to be taking a cue from this surge of protectionist scapegoating.

China, for its part, feels it is being presented with a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t set of options. If the country invests in clean technology, U.S. officials claim China is engaging in “unfair” trade practices. If it does not, U.S. lawmakers threaten to slap a high-carbon tariff on Chinese imports. It’s a no-win situation.

China is actually doing the world a favor. Its renewable-energy subsidies, which have made it a leading producer of wind and solar technology, are one of the most encouraging signs of progress in the global fight against climate change. China is currently the only country producing green technology at a scale that could dramatically bring down the price of goods like solar panels and wind turbines, making them affordable for both the developed and developing world. These advances could not have been brought about without government subsidies.

China‘s leaders have also committed to ambitious carbon-reducing policies. The country is aiming to cut its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. And it is committed to deriving at least 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but it still ranks far below the U.S. in terms of per capita emissions and historical emissions. And almost one-quarter of China’s emissions come from products that are made for export. To the extent the country becomes a major exporter of wind turbines, solar panels, fuel cells, and electric vehicles — all of which are energy-intensive to produce — it will be taking on an emissions burden from other countries.

If the U.S. wants to get serious about renewable energy, it should ramp up its own subsidies for clean technology, not quibble over China’s.

Lucia Green-Weiskel is project manager of the climate change program at the Beijing-based independent Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation. She appeared on Democracy Now during the COP 15 in Copenhagen and the COP 16 in Cancun, and her work has been published in The Nation.

Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic who covers climate change and environmental politics. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Grist, The Huffington Post, In These Times, The Nation, and Salon. Most recently, she covered the COP 16 climate meeting in Cancun for Alternet and The Nation.

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