Tom Daschle on China-U.S. Environment Cooperation

My former employer, CampusProgress.org at the Center for American Progress, has published a lengthy piece by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (a senior fellow at CAP) on U.S.-China environmental responsibility.

His central argument is that a leadership vacuum in both countries is a challenge to improving the environment. In the United States, he argues, the federal government lacks vision while many states are making progress on their own. In China, on the other hand, he points out that the central government is working hard on these issues but the challenge comes in spreading compliance to the provinces. The piece is full of good links, but much of the information will not be news to Transpacifica readers.

I’m taking advantage of Campus Progress’s generous republishing policy to include the full text here. The article was originally posted here.

The Greenhouse Heavyweights
Both the United States and China need climate change leadership.

By Tom Daschle
November 30, 2007

The United States and the People’s Republic of China are two of the 21st Century’s leading superpowers. China’s economic development continues to dramatically outpace other countries. During the first half of this year, China’s GDP reached 11.5%, putting China on track for its 5th consecutive year of double-digit growth. For its part, America remains the world’s leading engine of innovation, using our free market of ideas and capital to continue forging new solutions in science, medicine, and technology.

Regrettably, however, the United States and China have now ascended to world leadership in another much more threatening way: greenhouse gas emissions. The International Energy Agency has estimated that China will become the world leader in emissions by the end of the year. The Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency has reported that China is already there. Not to be outdone, the United States remains the world’s largest emitter on a per-capita basis. For every person in the United States, there are 6 tons of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. The United States and Chinese governments must not ignore these facts, but should instead embrace them as a catalyst for change. Indeed, the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) recent 17th National Congress and the upcoming presidential elections in the United States provide a historic opportunity for our two countries to begin a new chapter of global leadership in the fight against climate change.


Before leading the world in the fight against climate change, however, our two nations must first establish leadership within our own countries. Both the United States and Chinese governments lack enduring domestic leadership on this issue. Interestingly, the hurdles to domestic leadership in each nation are diametric: the United States lacks leadership at the national level, while many states have been extremely aggressive in carrying out policies to reduce carbon emissions. In China, on the other hand, the national leadership has recognized the threat of climate change, yet there continues to be disconnect with the provinces in successfully implementing government solutions. The United States and China must first remedy these domestic leadership vacuums before gaining the confidence of the world community at large.

Last month, the CPC convened its 17th National Party Congress in Beijing. This body meets every five years to outline the country’s national policy priorities. In a political report to the Party Congress, President Hu Jintao promoted a “conservation culture” that reduces carbon emissions and strikes a sustainable balance between China’s economic growth and preservation of the environment. Hu’s words advance policies outlined in China’s 11th 5-Year Program for National Economic and Social Development, which includes commitments to energy conservation and intensifying environmental protection. Details of these policy guidelines were released last summer in China’s first National Climate Change Programme, which set a national goal of reducing energy consumption by 20% per unit GDP and increasing renewable energy use overall by 10% by 2010. Although China, like the United States, has rejected participation in Kyoto, acknowledgement by its national leaders is a promising sign that its national government recognizes the urgency of this threat and is taking steps to address carbon emissions. Nevertheless, questions remain as to whether the message of national leaders is resonating with officials at the provincial and local levels.

Last July, the China’s National Development and Reform Commission announced that local governments were ignoring the central government’s directives on carrying out policies to reduce green house emissions. Specifically, some local governments were turning a “blind eye” to the need for reducing investments in high energy consuming sectors like steel and cement. The Commission expressed concern that the economic output created by such projects, and the associated prospects for promotion among the political ranks for individual officials, was a motivating factor that needed to be addressed. Indeed, there appears to be an atomization of power among local and provincial governments whereby local officials and businessmen work in concert with one another to maximize economic profits at a cost to the climate and environment at large. Unless incentives can be created to rectify this imbalance, the leadership vacuum at the local level will likely remain.

In the United States, leadership against climate change has been stymied in precisely the opposite way. President Bush has spent most of his administration denying that climate change is even a problem. Likewise, the previous Congress supported President Bush’s denial through its own inaction on climate change. Fortunately, the states have refused to let the failure of national leadership stall the fight against reducing greenhouse emissions. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont are participating in the the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative effort by these northeastern states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through a multi-state cap-and-trade program. In February 2007, a similar regional initiative was launched by several western states. The governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington joined together to create the Western Climate Initiative. These states have an overall regional goal of creating a market-based mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15% from 2005 levels by 2020. The governors of these states not only understand the urgency of reversing climate change for the health of our planet, but they also recognize the huge economic opportunity for the people of their states. Indeed, the estimated $1trillion in revenue profits by 2030 from clean energy sources such as wind, biofuels, and solar has provided a worthy and tangible incentive for state action against climate change.

Clearly, our two countries face significant leadership vacuums on climate change. Fortunately, individuals outside the government have been able to fill the void in preserving our environment. Former Vice-President Al Gore’s tremendous work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently won him a Nobel Prize. In China, activist Wu Lihon was named a “Environmental Warrior” by the Chinese government but endured physical abuse and other oppression in his fight to salvage the great Tai Hu lake from total destruction by pollution. While the work of these two great activists is invaluable to the cause of fighting climate change, it is only through government leadership that we will be able to truly rally the world to effective action. Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon that the leadership inadequacies of both countries will soon be resolved.

In China, there are signs that local officials are beginning to recognize the urgency of making the fight against climate change a national priority. The city of Chengdu, in Western China, for instance, has invested $4.3 billion in projects for environmental improvements by 2010. In addition, the National Development Reform Commission also increased fees on high-polluting and high-energy consuming enterprises that will be deposited with local governments, and thus create an incentive for more aggressive enforcement of environmental laws at the local level. Perhaps the most promising development is a recent pact signed by thirty deputy governors, mayors and heads of autonomous regions, and 15 general managers of state-owned enterprises to meet the central government’s targets for carbon emission reductions. Hopefully, by linking personal accountability and an individual’s career prospects within the government and the CPC, these officials will have a tangible incentive to ensure compliance with the national government’s directive on climate change.

In the United States, climate change is a priority for some of the leading presidential candidates. In addition, a bipartisan group of leaders in Congress has finally awakened Capitol Hill to action. In the Senate, Senators Joe Lieberman and John Warner have introduced a bill that would create a carbon cap-and-trade system and reduce total U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by as much as 19% below the 2005 level in 2020. On the House side, Chairman John Dingell of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Representative Rick Boucher, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, have spearheaded an exhaustive series of hearings to begin work on a comprehensive climate change bill.

The fate of greenhouse gas reduction lies in the hands of the United States and China. As the largest contributors of these emissions, we owe the world a responsibility of ensuring that this destructive trend is reversed. The first step to this cooperative leadership will be filling our own vacuums of domestic leadership. By working together, our two great nations can make this century a green one.

Tom Daschle is the former Senate Majority Leader and a Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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