China and the United States have a lot in common. China’s rapid economic development and America’s industry have turned the two nations into world’s largest energy users, as well as the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. So it’s fitting that experts from these two countries share ideas on how to grow their economies in ways that also protect the environment.
That’s exactly what happened this week when WRI hosted a high-level Chinese delegation in Washington, D.C. The event was part of a larger study tour organized by MIT, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China. More than 20 representatives from Chinese research institutions and central and local government gathered to learn about low-carbon development strategies and policies, with WRI serving as one of the tour’s first stops.
“I spent a great deal of time in China, and I believe very strongly that we have as much or more to learn from you as you have to learn from us,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, to the Chinese delegation. “We all know that energy—especially the low-carbon economy—is a very hot topic for our world today,” Zhang Tong, Deputy Governor of China’s Hubei Province, said at the WRI event. “The purpose for our visit is to learn from the United States’ experiences with low-carbon development and the energy industry. At the same time, we would like to share our experiences with these concepts as a developing country.”
Learning About Low-Carbon Development
Several of WRI’s experts shared their expertise in low-carbon development. Attendees learned about WRI’s Aqueduct tool, an online platform that helps businesses understand water risks globally and in specific river basins, like China’s Yellow River. They heard from members of WRI’s climate team, who discussed the state of U.S. climate policy as well as shale gas development, which has a heavy and growing presence in both America and China. Delegates also learned about how sustainable transportation like bus rapid transit (BRT) systems can curb carbon emissions, spur economic growth, and create healthier, more livable cities.
“We are honored to have you here today,” Xiaomei Tan, Deputy Director of WRI's China office, said to the delegates. “This is an opportunity for mutual learning and to foster a greater understanding of low carbon development.”
Many Chinese leaders expressed a particularly keen interest in learning more about America’s recent history with shale gas development. WRI has been expanding its analytical work around shale gas in the United States and China. Sarah Forbes, a senior associate at WRI who recently testified before Congress about China’s growing shale gas industry, shared her observations. She said that shale gas development in the United States has been increasing, but it has had both positive and negative impacts on local communities.
Future Sustainability Work in China
This study tour provides an opportunity for Chinese delegates to evaluate low-carbon options and craft their own approaches. As Zhang Tong noted at the event, China is moving to enact strong carbon intensity targets. For instance, its 12th five-year plan calls for significant action to address its greenhouse gas emissions and other energy challenges. The country’s goal is to cut its energy intensity by 16 percent and reduce carbon intensity by 17 percent by 2015. At the same time, China represents world’s second-largest economy, and its population exceeds 1.3 billion. Strategic approaches to low-carbon development, like those discussed at our event, will be necessary to ensure that China follows an environmentally and economically sustainable growth path.
To that end, the recent WRI event is part of an ongoing dialogue with Chinese officials and policymakers. WRI is actively working at both national and regional levels on sustainable cities, greenhouse gas accounting, clean water, transportation and other projects in China, with plans to expand our activities into the future.
“You are all in increasingly important positions in China and in the world,” Manish Bapna, WRI’s managing director, said to delegates at the end of the event. “We hope that we can provide support and guidance to you as you tackle the challenges that are important to the world. We hope that this is just the start of the conversation.”
And indeed it was. After the event concluded, the Chinese delegation headed out for dinner with a few WRI staff members to do just that.