When U.S. President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaFox News host promoted by Trump calls on Paul Ryan to step down Dan Rather: Failure to repeal ObamaCare most 'staggering loss' so early in a term Pence: Trump 'won't rest' until ObamaCare repealed MORE and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly announced major targets to combat climate change last November, they did more than chart an ambitious course for their two countries. The leaders of the world’s two biggest economies – which are also the planet’s two biggest energy consumers and greenhouse gas emitters – showed a way forward for U.S. bilateral cooperation with other countries on energy and climate.
In this year’s run-up to critical international climate talks in Paris in December, the United States and other nations are releasing their national commitments to curb heat-trapping emissions. The recently announced U.S. proposal offers more details on its plan to reduce heat-trapping emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. That plan dovetails with Washington’s continuing work with Beijing to address the problems caused by a changing climate.
Both countries see the huge potential market for clean energy development. China is the world’s largest investor in low-carbon energy, investing around $90 billion last year – over one-quarter of the world’s total. The United States is second, investing just over $50 billion.
China has put climate action and clean energy high on its national agenda. This includes targets announced in November to have its carbon dioxide emissions peak around 2030 — with the intention to do so sooner — and to raise the non-fossil fuel share of energy use to around 20 percent in the next 15 years. China is already setting records for renewable energy growth. It plans to install 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2020 – almost half of current global capacity, and 200 gigawatts of wind power by 2020 likely keeping it well ahead of other countries in terms of total capacity added in that timeframe. In addition to promoting low-emissions sources of energy China has taken other dramatic steps to curb local air pollution, including investing $277 billion in 2013 to improve air quality and ban coal plants in some areas.
Bilateral cooperation allows for the identification of clear technical areas of mutual interest. The United States and China have a three-decade track record of successful cooperation on energy and the environment. Early agreements in the 1980s and 1990s focused on a basic framework for cooperation and on energy policy discussions, but over time, the agreements have become more technically focused. This long experience working together has forged a bilateral relationship both nations value.
A prime example is the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC), a five-year-old joint project that both countries continue to expand in depth and breadth. Xi and Obama used last year’s joint climate announcement to extend the center’s mandate through 2020, renewing funding for efforts to increase building energy efficiency, improve clean vehicles and pursue advanced coal technologies including carbon capture, use and sequestration. They also launched a new track on the interaction of energy and water.
Because CERC is a presidential-level initiative with high-level engagement through ministerial oversight, researchers have confidence that the highest level of government officials support this joint Chinese-U.S. effort. By pairing U.S. researchers with their Chinese counterparts and setting them to work toward a common objective, the center creates a collaborative network that supports innovation. This also builds capacity in the workforce by training students and engaging those in the private sector.
CERC has been a two-way street. Both countries come to the table as equal partners with a shared sense of commitment. Each side benefited from the specialized expertise of the other, with more diversity in approaches to the problem and accelerated progress. While a key obstacle to US-China technology cooperation is managing intellectual property, the CERC has developed an innovative agreement to manage how intellectual property is shared and created among its participants. While it is too early to comprehensively assess the benefits from CERC, it serves as a unique a model for collaboration on clean energy.
High-level involvement, open and equal partnership and well-supported collaboration are the hallmarks of climate action cooperation between China and the United States. It’s a long-running relationship that has delivered concrete, positive results. Both countries are making progress developing and deploying low-carbon energy through unique research arrangements with the public and private sectors. This strategy could well be used to reach out to other potential climate partners around the world.
Just last week, the United States and Mexico announced a new task force on climate and energy, another successful result from bilateral dialogue. The China-U.S. partnership and the nascent Mexico-U.S. partnership show that the United States can show its climate leadership by working with partners in other countries as the world moves toward the big negotiations in Paris this year.
Forbes is a China expert at the World Resources Institute. Lewis is a professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.