China-California Pacts Show How States And Nations Can Win On Climate Under Trump
- Jun 22, 2017 5:00 pm GMT
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The Paris Agreement is an overwhelming global consensus to fight climate change—with only Syria and Nicaragua failing to sign on—but Donald Trump’s announcement he intends to withdraw America from the accord threatens climate action. However, since his announcement on June 1st, an international silver lining has emerged to this dark cloud: Trump’s action has encouraged major nations and leader states within the U.S. to reaffirm and strengthen their commitments to seizing the decarbonization opportunity.
China and California have already begun forging new trails to capture this opportunity. During his recent six-day visit to China, Governor Jerry Brown, America’s “unofficial climate change ambassador,” met with China’s most prominent government figures, including President Xi Jinping, to discuss ways the Red Dragon and the Golden State could collaborate on climate strategies. President Xi rarely meets with government officials other than fellow national leaders, so his nearly hour-long conversation with California’s governor indicates the importance China is placing on climate cooperation.
California And California: Benefiting From Stronger Cooperation
Both governments see big economic and environmental upsides to increased cooperation. California views China as a rising dynamic force, a valuable export market, a source of new investment, and an innovation collaborator. While in China last week, Governor Brown said, “China is leading. California is leading… California-China cooperation has taken a real leap forward.” Likewise, China considers California a trailblazer for the sustainable development path it aspires to follow.
California offers lessons as China works to build a cleaner, more innovative economy. The air pollution Chinese citizens endure today from increased industrial activity and sprawling personal automobile use is reminiscent of mid-20th century smog in southern California, which spurred the creation of the California Air Resources Board and dozens of subsequent policy innovations.
The return to blue skies in Los Angeles, and the state’s decoupling of emissions from economic growth, are important proof points for the Chinese. As Energy Innovation CEO Hal Harvey said, “The reference point for China is not Washington, its California. They would rather learn from California than any other jurisdiction.”
Having pulled 300 million people out of poverty, China’s government now must address increasing quality-of-life concerns from its growing middle class. Chinese authorities are striving to improve air quality and other environmental problems in an effort to deliver a better quality of life after years of focusing on economic growth. This green growth push is consistent with China’s overall effort to transition from an export-oriented, industry-heavy economy to a more innovative, service-based economy.
The World’s Big Movers On Climate Solutions Moving Forward
China has already demonstrated its low-carbon leadership through several actions: It has committed to investing $360 billion in renewable electricity by 2020, it is the world leader in installed wind and solar power, and it has the largest national electric vehicle market. China has also borrowed lessons from California’s policy playbook, including strong efficiency standards for buildings, appliances, and cars, as well as renewable energy targets. Now, China is eager to learn from California’s cap-and-trade program—the best designed carbon program in the world—as it readies for its own national emissions trading system launch, expected late this year.
China and California understand that policies promoting innovation and clean tech will be the economic winners of the 21st century. As California has ramped up its emission reduction measures, it has emerged as the strongest large-state economy and the fastest growing advanced economy. In the last five years, with just 12% of the U.S. population, California is responsible for 17% of the nation’s job growth and 25% of its economic growth. The state attracts about half of all North American venture capital for clean energy, and these investments are paying off with growing, profitable companies. Just last year, clean energy jobs grew 14% in California, double the overall average job growth.
China also recognizes this economic opportunity, as demonstrated through its supreme presence in the global clean tech sector. This year, Ernst & Young ranked China the world’s most attractive market for renewable energy, and more than a third of the world’s largest publicly listed clean tech companies are China-based. China’s renewables sector already employs 3.6 million people, and is expected to add 13 million more renewables jobs by 2020.
A Golden Opportunity To Take Climate Leadership to the Next Level
On his China trip, Governor Brown signed multiple agreements to increase California-China climate collaboration, including:
- A pact with Sichuan province to establish the California-Sichuan Clean Tech Innovation Center and develop a California-China Clean Technology Partnership Fund;
- An agreement with Jiangsu province to expand cooperation on clean energy technology and the reduction of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions;
- An agreement with China’s Minister of Science and Technology that builds off the provincial-level pacts to advance low-carbon energy and transportation technologies;
- The U.S.-China Climate Change Institute, a joint initiative with California and Tsinghua University connecting government leaders, researchers, and scientists to collaborate on climate solutions.
The partnerships developed during Brown’s visit can make global climate impacts, and China’s desire to work on climate cooperation with U.S. leader states has already been emulated by others. Since Trump’s Paris pullout, Germany has agreed with California on a joint approach to fight climate change, Canada’s federal government is moving to work directly with U.S. states and cities on climate change, and the Under2MOU coalition of international “subnational governments” that Governor Brown has championed added five new signatories to reach 1.2 billion in covered population.
Finding time to expand international partnerships can be tough amidst the day-to-day demands of government, but California must find the resources. And even as California shares its expertise, its policy leaders must continue working to settle debates about the state’s cap-and-trade program beyond 2020. These discussions must be resolved promptly in order to provide the confidence businesses need to make clean energy investments, while properly signaling to other states and countries that our world-best program offers valuable design lessons.
By Chris Busch
Chris Busch is Director of Research at Energy Innovation where he leads the urban sustainability and California climate programs.