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Clinton Visit Signals New Era of Trust, Cooperation Between U.S., China on Climate Change

WWF Praises Both Countries for Constructive Dialogue, Laying Groundwork for Agreement in Copenhagen

WASHINGTON, DC, February 19, 2009 – The world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases are laying the foundations for a new era of trust and cooperation on addressing the climate crisis, World Wildlife Fund officials said today as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to China for high-level meetings on climate change.

In the final leg of her maiden trip as secretary of state, Clinton will meet with Chinese leaders to discuss efforts by the two countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to cooperate in areas such as energy efficiency and alternative energy technology.  They will also discuss ongoing negotiations on a new global climate treaty that is expected to be adopted in December in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“We are now seeing leadership by both the U.S. and China as the two countries move beyond finger-pointing to constructive engagement,” said Dr. Richard Moss, vice president of climate change at WWF-U.S.  “This is the first important step on a long journey to reduce both countries’ greenhouse gas emissions.  These discussions can create the basis for further bilateral cooperation and joint leadership in the U.N. climate talks.” 

Dr. Fuqiang Yang, director of Global Climate Change Solutions for WWF-International and who is based in Beijing with WWF-China, said, “President Obama and President Hu recognize the severity of the climate crisis and have expressed their commitment to reducing emissions. Today’s meeting is an important first step in laying the basis for the difficult work that remains to be done between now and December.” 

Traveling with Clinton is Climate Change Special Envoy Todd Stern, the point person for the U.S. in the climate treaty negotiations.  Success in Copenhagen largely hinges on the cooperation and participation of the U.S. and China, which together account for 40 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that result from human activities.

While President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao have stated their commitment to reaching an agreement, several issues must be resolved before either will sign a new treaty, Moss noted. During today’s meetings, WWF hopes that the American and Chinese delegations will begin discussions on emissions targets, technology cooperation, financing for alternative energy development, reducing emissions from deforestation, and climate change adaptation – areas in which WWF believes agreement between the U.S. and China will be essential.

Moss praised both countries for setting energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, and implementing domestic policies that will make it easier to adopt a treaty that will constrain carbon emissions.  He noted that while both countries must do significantly more to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, this trip and recent developments offer hope for the future.

Both the U.S. and China have begun mandating greater energy efficiency in buildings and automobiles. China, whose fuel economy standards already surpass those of the U.S., has set a target for reducing energy consumption, per unit of gross domestic product, by 20 percent over the period 2006-2010. The country has also greatly expanded its production of renewable energy, which rose to 7.5 percent of its total energy portfolio in 2005 and is mandated to increase to 20 percent by 2020.  The U.S. federal government has yet to implement a national renewable energy standard, but some states have begun implementing such standards on their own.

Moss said the U.S. and China recognize that there is much work to be done, and that low-carbon technologies offer enormous opportunity for economic growth.  In what could be described as a race to be the “green superpower,” the two countries have been ramping up investments in energy efficiency and clean energy technology, using economic stimulus packages to focus resources in those targeted areas. 

“Many of the world’s poor are accessing electricity and modern conveniences for the first time,” said Moss.  “As the developing world emerges from energy poverty, global emissions are poised to rise sharply unless we use technology to decouple our prosperity from greenhouse gas emissions.  The dialogue begun this week between the U.S. and our allies in Asia has laid the groundwork for technology cooperation and greatly increased the likelihood of success in Copenhagen. 

“Through this trip, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have demonstrated their serious commitment to addressing climate change and have sent a strong message to the world that Washington has entered a new era of international cooperation,” Moss said. 

To better understand each other’s priorities and circumstances, and to identify where a U.S.-China partnership on energy and climate security makes sense, Moss said Clinton’s visit will need to mark the beginning of a series of bilateral meetings. This should include U.S. and Chinese commitments to a heads of state summit before the G8, discussions on climate change at the G8 plus 5 and G20 meetings, and constructive bilateral dialogues during the U.N. climate change talks that will take place throughout the year, he said.

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NOTE TO EDITORS:

WWF has prepared a position paper detailing steps taken by China to address climate change.  The paper, “China Takes Action Against Climate Change,” is available online: http://www.worldwildlife.org/climate/Publications/WWFBinaryitem11575.pdf.

A release issued by WWF earlier in the week, commenting on Clinton’s visits to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China, is also available online: http://www.worldwildlife.org/who/media/press/2009/WWFPresitem11534.html.

ABOUT WWF CHINA

WWF was the first international conservation organization invited to work in China, and has been active in the country since 1980. Today, after nearly three decades of tackling environment and energy challenges in China, it has a staff of more than 100 working in nine offices across the country on issues ranging from on-the-ground forest and freshwater conservation to high-level policy. Visit www.wwfchina.org (Chinese) or www.wwfchina.org/english (English) for more information.