Climate change, China’s role and the upcoming Obama-Xi talks

May 24th, 2013 | by Ian James | Comments

AP photo

During a panel discussion hosted by the Asia Society this week focusing on U.S.-China economic relations, Peter Seligmann of the organization Conservation International emphasized the importance of the United States and China working together to confront climate change.

Seligmann, the environmental group’s co-founder and CEO, pointed out that China and the United States are the No. 1 and No. 2 emitters of CO2 and that together the two countries put into the atmosphere half of the world’s CO2 emissions.

“What I see going forward is extraordinary opportunities for China and the United States to collaborate on a common agenda of sustainability,” Seligmann said during the event in New York. “We must take that leadership role.”

China, which now burns half of the world’s coal consumption, has announced it is taking some steps that could help. This week, the British newspaper The Guardian reports that China will begin its first pilot carbon trading program next month in the southern city of Shenzhen.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission this week announced details of the carbon trading program, which will cover 638 companies that account for 38 percent of the city’s total emissions. Shenzhen is one of seven areas where the Chinese government plans to try experimental carbon trading programs.

The Chinese government is launching the projects while also trying to get a grip on severe air pollution in Beijing and other cities. But it’s unclear how much action China is willing to take in the coming years, or how much of a commitment Chinese and U.S. leaders might make to cooperate in reining in emissions of greenhouse gases.

When President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 7-8 at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, one of the big questions will be whether they put climate change on the agenda. With a crowded lineup of complex issues such as North Korea, concerns about Chinese cyberattacks, trade and investment, it seems likely that climate change will take a back seat.

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