U.S., China Coordinating On Climate Change

President Obama sent two of his Cabinet secretaries to China this week to deal with the question of global warming.

Both of them are of Chinese descent. That sent a ripple of interest through China's officialdom.

The cabinet secretaries' mission was to make a case that China and the United States — the world's largest emitters of carbon — must cooperate for any deal to be struck at the United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen this December.

One of the first stops came Wednesday, when Energy Secretary Steven Chu spoke at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University. He warned that if China's carbon emissions continue to grow at current rates, the results would be staggering.

"The amount of carbon that China will have emitted in the next 30 years would be equal to all the carbon that the United States has emitted in the life of its country," Chu said.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was also on the trip. In Beijing, one of their stops was Future House USA, a model residence that uses solar panels and geothermal heat pumps to generate its own electricity. Chu used the house as a backdrop for outlining goals for the China trip.

He said he hoped the general areas of collaboration would include capturing carbon and building more efficient buildings and better cars.

On Thursday, the secretaries announced agreements to pursue those goals through the creation of a U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center.

Daniel Ellis is president of Climate Master, an Oklahoma-based company that made the Future House's geothermal heat pumps. He said U.S.-China cooperation could help the Obama administration overcome opposition from climate change skeptics.

"To get the U.S. Congress to pass climate change legislation, they have to see that there's international cooperation going to happen," he said. "Because if we adopt this on our own, and other major burgeoning economies like China don't come along for the ride, they're going to be really reluctant to have the U.S. adopt it on their own."

At a news conference Thursday, Locke emphasized that China's leadership is committed to reducing its carbon footprint.

"The Chinese are taking unprecedented measures," he said. "They are a model for developing countries around the world, and should be applauded."

Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Virginia-based Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said that getting China to agree to emissions reductions at Copenhagen may be tougher.

"In the context of the formal U.N. negotiations, you hear a very hard-line position from China," he said. "And you can expect them to continue taking that hard line until they see further progress in those negotiations, and some concessions on the part of developed countries."

Ultimately, though, Diringer said China does not want to be seen as obstructing an important global pact on climate change.

The sight of two Chinese-American Cabinet secretaries standing together clearly intrigued some of the Chinese reporters. One asked: "I wonder if your Chinese face and Chinese origin would be an advantage for you to negotiate with China."

Locke said he is proud of his Chinese heritage, but "the policies of the United States of America do not change depending on who is doing the negotiating."

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