U.S., China agree on climate steps to curb emissions


Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, Secretary of State John Kerry, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew shake hands after the opening session of the U.S. and China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The United States and China agreed Wednesday to tighten pollution standards on heavy trucks, boost energy efficiency in buildings and take a series of other steps to curb greenhouse-gas emissions in the world’s top two polluting countries.

A working group of officials from the two nations was established in April, with orders from the tops of both governments to intensify cooperation on global warming. Environmental activists say this holds immense potential because of the combined size and influence of the two nations — at a time when countries are struggling to agree on a global strategy.

Top officials from both sides met Wednesday and targeted five areas — from bread-and-butter steps, such as boosting building efficiency, to what officials said would be a leading-edge effort to improve the technology for capturing carbon as it is released from power plants.

Advocates say carbon capture is important to a long-term solution to global warming, but the cost and unproven nature of the technology are considered to be major hurdles.

Under Wednesday’s agreement, China and the United States consented to build “several large-scale” demonstration projects to try to “overcome barriers” to the wider use of carbon-capture technology.

Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, said the aim of the working group’s recommendations is not to commit either country to specific carbon reduction targets but to develop practical steps and policies to cut greenhouse pollution — such as the elimination of hydrofluorocarbons that President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to last month in California.

“China and the U.S. are the two most important players. We are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. . . . Working shoulder to shoulder . . . is only a good thing,” Stern said. “It is not suddenly going to transform the [international] negotiation, but it will project something positive.”

Durwood Zaelke, president of the environmental advocacy group Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said the working group’s priority list seemed “pragmatic” — particularly the focus on steps such as reducing the sooty emissions from heavy trucks that have become a major problem in China, as well as improving building efficiency.

Both are areas, he said, where U.S. technology meshes well with the building and economic boom underway in China.

“This is not sexy,” he said. “It is just hard work by technocrats. But it is hard work that has the potential to pay off.”

The climate discussions were part of the broader Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the United States and China being held this week in Washington. The sessions are taking place against the backdrop of an economic slowdown in China that U.S. officials hope will spur the new government there to quicken the pace of financial reform.

The sessions opened on another major issue between the two nations. U.S. officials, including Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, prodded China to crack down on cyberespionage directed at U.S. corporations.

Lew said that for economic relations between the two countries to succeed, U.S. firms had to be “preserved and protected from government-sponsored
cyber-intrusion.”

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