US, China unveil joint climate initiatives

China and the U.S., the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters, on Wednesday unveiled a series of joint initiatives intended to combat climate change.

The two countries pledged to deepen bilateral cooperation with efforts to curb carbon emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and advance carbon storage technology. They also called for expanded cooperation on energy efficiency, data collection on greenhouse gases and the deployment of “smart grid” technologies for electricity.

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The five “action initiatives” do not create any binding requirements or emissions targets, but they will expand on existing green energy and climate cooperation agreements between the two nations.

The plans were laid out at a high-level meeting on climate policy Wednesday that drew an array of Cabinet-level and White House officials, reflecting the Obama administration’s heightened focus on climate change in recent months.

The secretaries of the State, Energy, Treasury, Transportation and Commerce departments all attended the session at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, according to Todd Stern, the State Department's special climate envoy.

Other attendees included Gina McCarthy, who is the EPA’s top air quality official and the White House nominee to run the agency; U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman; U.S. Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg; and Deputy National Security Adviser Caroline Atkinson, according to Stern, who also noted high-level Chinese participation.

A joint working group, which was announced in April, presented the climate plans to the U.S. and Chinese officials gathered in Washington, D.C., for the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

The working group will develop “implementation plans” on the subjects by October, the State Department said in a summary.

It’s the latest phase of efforts to work with China to spur wider use of technologies to curb emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases.

The U.S. and China vowed in June to work together on curbing hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in refrigerators, air conditioners and other applications.

Beyond the technology-specific efforts, the two nations signaled Wednesday that they would try and work together at United Nations-hosted talks aimed at crafting a sweeping new international climate accord in the coming years.

Clashes between the U.S. and China dominated the fractious 2009 U.N. climate talks in Denmark, which almost collapsed before nations salvaged a voluntary set of principles that have enabled subsequent global talks.

“Recognizing the importance of working through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United States and China are committed to enhancing our policy dialogue on all aspects of the future agreement,” the State Department summary states.  
 
It also notes, “The Working Group will also strengthen the bilateral dialogue on domestic climate policy to enhance mutual understanding of and confidence in each others’ measures.”

Stern said the deepening U.S.-China collaboration could benefit the wider U.N. talks, which are now aimed at reaching a global emissions accord in 2015 that would come into force in 2020.

“It will present something positive that I think will be helpful,” Stern said on a call with reporters.

This post was updated at 1:48 p.m.