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China Daily Global / 2020-02 / 03 / Page013

China-California climate collaboration

By ROBERT GOTTLIEB and CHRISTINE LOH | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-03 00:00

There are a growing number of agreements and initiatives between California and various Chinese provinces and municipalities

As climate catastrophes increase in scope and number, such as the wildfires in Australia and floods in Indonesia, the US government continues to remain in full climate denial. At the same time, tensions between the United States and China, the two largest contributors to climate change, ebb and flow, undermining opportunities to cooperate. Could a California-China climate response change this dynamic? We think so.

The timing, however, is crucial. The US and China play an enormously outsize role in climate change. The US has historically generated the largest amount of carbon emissions and remains the largest per capita emitter. China in turn leapfrogged past the US in 2007 to become the largest global emitter. Together, the US(at 14 percent) and China (at 26 to 27 percent) today account for more than two-fifths of all worldwide carbon emissions.

US emissions, moreover, actually increased in 2018, reversing earlier trends. China's emissions, while slowing down, are projected to increase each year, at least through 2030. Given the US government's denial and China's caution, California and China already have the foundation to take on climate leadership.

California-China government-to-government cooperation dates back to 2013. It was significantly elevated by a June 2017 California-China climate agreement signed just weeks after the current US administration said it would begin the process of pulling out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The California-China deal includes the possibility of future trade agreements around green technologies, as one crucial climate response strategy. Other agreements have since been signed between California and various Chinese government entities, including provinces, municipalities, and environmental agencies. Between 2013 and 2019, 23 agreements were signed. The most recent agreement, signed in October 2019 between California and Jiangsu province, focuses on the development of low carbon energy sources, a core focus for both California and China.

These agreements have also identified the opportunities for direct research collaborations. The most visible of these is the collaboration between UC Berkeley and Tsinghua University announced in September 2019 that established the California-China Climate Institute. The agenda for this collaboration includes zero emission vehicles, other low carbon transportation strategies, and sustainable land use and agriculture, among other areas.

Other universities in California, such as UCLA, USC and Irvine, have ongoing research with counterparts in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland that includes greenhouse gas monitoring, as well as reducing pollutant emissions and decarbonization of shipping emissions. Cross-Pacific port-toport collaboration between California and China offer good opportunities going forward.

Less visible, yet perhaps most significantly, grassroots linkages can provide an invaluable form of exchange and connection. This has happened in areas such as sustainable agriculture, and energy efficiency for buildings.

One of the more exciting grassroots initiatives has been in the area of sustainable agriculture, including direct farm to consumer programs, such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). The first CSA in China was in fact inspired by a young Chinese student's internship experience on a CSA farm in the US. After she and her husband created with others a CSA farm on the outskirts of Beijing, they subsequently established a CSA network throughout China. Today, more than 1,000 farms participate in the network in China and it has been growing each year. Its annual meetings attract people throughout the world, including California sustainable agriculture advocates and practitioners.

On the energy front, new buildings must be highly energy efficient, and smart technologies can help people to maximize efficiency gains. Existing buildings, even old buildings, can be retrofitted to improve efficiency, and at the same time improve indoor air quality. Pioneering work is being done by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology that combines structural, technical, management, financing and usage of buildings to capture energy saving and public health gains. This would be another promising area for California-China cooperation.

What is especially important about these types of grassroots connections is their capacity to challenge the hostile, anti-China, anti-US, discourse that has taken hold in both countries. Climate change, as many have noted, is the pre-eminent global existential threat. A California-China collaboration can help reduce that threat through tangible advances in new strategies, technologies, and policy ideas. And it can hopefully reverse the failure to act on climate change that only continues to magnify the possibility-and likelihood-of greater climate catastrophes to come.

Robert Gottlieb is the coauthor (with Simon Ng) of Global Cities: Urban Environments in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and China (MIT Press) and emeritus professor at Occidental College; Christine Loh is chief development strategist at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's Institute for the Environment. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.




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