Among the scheduled topics for discussion this week in meetings between Vice President Gore and China’s Premier Zhu Rongji is cooperation on the environment, clean energy and sustainability. Undoubtedly, this is a significant opportunity for both countries to affirm that these issues are national and global priorities. Such an affirmation would please environmentalists and others who for years have been seeking a coordinated global strategy for addressing climate change and other environmental concerns.
This is not incidental: China and the United States are the two largest energy users in the world and the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. Further, China is in the midst of unprecedented economic expansion, with a growth rate of 10 percent a year over the past ten years – as much growth in one decade as the industrial world experienced in nearly a century.
WRI’s recent research in the areas of climate, health and energy use in China has shown that the results of such massive and rapid development have so far come at a high cost to China’s natural environment and public health. The question is whether China can begin to follow a different course – with benefits to her own citizens and the world – which presents an extraordinary challenge for environmental policy. Decisions Chinese government and business leaders make in the next three decades about energy and transportation will shape the local and the global environment.
WRI’s team of experts, at the request of both the Chinese and U.S. governments, have been involved on the ground in evaluating, analyzing, and in developing solutions to what are some of the foremost environmental problems of our time. These researchers will be available for interviews by journalists, or to provide background for the potentially historic meetings. This includes WRI’s President Jonathan Lash, who is a member of the China Council and co-chair of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, and experts in the areas of climate, energy, health and transportation.
Our research, for instance, shows that under international agreements that address climate change, the approaches of the two countries to development and the environment must be treated differently. Indeed, the U.S. and other industrialized countries have primarily been responsible for the increase in atmospheric concentrations in CO2 and other greenhouse gases:
But despite dramatic improvements in energy efficiency, China is still contending with some of the most serious environmental threats in the world. These include: