Top climate change officials from China and the U.S. met this week in Beijing to hash out a pre-Copenhagen plan for cutting greenhouse gas. The two countries are the world’s top two greenhouse gas emitters, according to the Brookings Institution. Together, they account for more than 40 percent of annual emissions. Any solution to the greenhouse gas problem may require both countries to transition to low-carbon economies.
John Hockenberry: We are pleased and grateful to close out this hour by welcoming David Sandalow, the Assistant Secretary of Energy on the program. He joins us from Washington D.C. He's just back from a meeting with top level climate change officials between the United States and China - a meeting that took place in Beijing. Mr. Assistant Secretary, good morning.
David Sandolow: Thanks for having me john.
JH: Um, let's first of all describe the significance of these talks. The two biggest carbon emitters it's probably far to say, there's probably someone else in there that would make the top three. But China and the U.S. talking about climate change. Um, what's the argument here?
DS: Well, I'll tell you, they were good talks, things have changed so much. I first visited China in 1981. I was a student on one of the early foreign exchange programs between our two countries way back when. And back then, in that summer, there was one international phone line in the entire city of Shanghai that I could use to call home in this vast city. Now, when I arrived in Beijing last week, my Blackberry automatically connected to a wireless network within moments of my plane arriving in Beijing, and by the time we got to the terminal, I had already sent messages back home and I called... by the time I was in the airport I was using my cell to call D.C. You know, I guess when I think
about that contrast between you know, 1981 and today, it gives me a lot of hope for this global warming problem which is so challenging.
JH: Except Secretary...
DS: I think the U.S. and China are going to make big changes over the course...over the next couple of decades and change our entire system if we work together.
JH: But isn't that very growth what leads officials in the U.S. government to believe that China alone and its massive economy could actually tip the scales on climate change regardless of what the rest of the world does?
DS: Well it could if China's economy is huge and growing and it uses 20th century technology to grow during the 21st century, it's going t be a problem for all of us in terms of global warming. And so that's why we need to work together to get clean technology out there for both, in the U.S. and China. By the way, what you said at the top is exactly right. Our two countries are the biggest green house gas emitters in the world. Together we are 45% of the world's global warming pollution.
JH: All right.
DS: By the way, also we're the two biggest oil users and oil importers in the world. So we have some common interests, the U.S. and China, and neither one of us want to be reliant on the Middle East for oil.
JH: Alright. So if I'm a citizen of Poland or Belize, and I'm looking at the two biggest carbon emitters and oil users talking about how they are going to affect climate change, how is that not some sort of conspiracy? Shouldn't you be talking with me?
DS: Oh, well, we are. Uh, these discussions on global warming are global and involve every country. But they also involve pairs like the U.S. and China. I mean, the solution to global warming involves everybody. It just makes sense when you've got that... when you've got two countries that represent 45 % of total emissions they ought to be talking to each other bilaterally; as the diplomats say.
JH: Alright then. If China, which is about to get one fifth of its energy from sustainable sources actually achieves that, and of course there's some question about that, what would the U.S. do to demonstrate its willingness to make sacrifices?
DS: Well, first I think this whole agenda in both of our countries is about creating jobs. This is the economic future in the 21st century. It's clean energy. You know there are more jobs in wind energy than there is in coal mining? Jobs and all these skills are important. But there's huge growth going in both clean energy areas. It's a way to get us out of our recession both here in the U.S. and in China. And so, what the Obama administration has done from the start is invest in this whole clean energy area. The economic stimulus bill that President Obama signed in February is the largest energy bill ever passed in the U.S. with record breaking investments in clean energy. They, uh, I mean, there
are lots of exciting pieces in it. One of the pieces that excite me the most is on energy efficiency. We waste so much energy in this country. And with some basic simple investments, we can reduce the amount of energy we waste and there's money in the stimulus package for example for investing in weatherproofing low income homes so less energy is wasted; in improving efficiency of federal buildings. And that's the thing that creates jobs today but then beyond that, reduces bills forever.
Farai Chideya: Let me jump in here just for a second. One of the things that really strikes me is that when we talk about China we are talking about leverage. China is a nation which owns much of the U.S. debt. Sometimes we are working in concert and sometimes we are working in cross purposes. As nations, how does America's financial relationship to China and diplomatic relationship to China affect our ability to work as partners on climate change? Is that even realistic?
DS: Farai, that is an excellent question. I think that our two countries are deeply interlinked in many, many ways. The financial system is one you just pointed to. That atmosphere is another. So we have to find ways to be partners even as we are competitors in some economic arenas. So, I think that actually this whole clean energy agenda can be a real pillar for cooperation between our two countries. We have such common interests. Both of our countries want to reduce our dependency on oil.
FC: But can the U.S. have any authority for example to muscle China in any way? Or is that simply not possible?
DS: You know, I think it is a combination of pushing and pulling. I think, you know, we have some very common interests and both of us would benefit greatly for example if we could get electric vehicles out on the road... would reduce our dependency on oil. We just started to do that in the U.S. General Motors has a car called the Volt which is going to be a plug in car which is coming out soon.
DS: China's starting to get out ahead of us on this. And so there's some economic competition, but here's also some cooperation our two countries can engage in.
JH: Alright, well, David Sandalow, just back from Beijing. He's the Assistant U.S. Energy Secretary. He joined us from Washington. Secretary Sandalow, thank you so much.
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.