National Press Club

Kerry: US-China Cooperation Critical to Climate Change Success

July 30, 2009 | By Lorna Aldrich |

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Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations and 2004 Democratic candidate for president, alternated between good news and bad news on climate change at a July 29 Luncheon.

He spoke as two days of high-level U.S. and Chinese meetings concluded in Washington. He cited the meetings’ accomplishments and added that on climate change, “…more should have been accomplished, and more could have been achieved.”

He covered the international and national political hurdles to success at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, involving 120 nations.

Collaboration between China, the current largest source of carbon emissions, and the United States, whose cumulated emissions are the largest, is essential, he said. Forty percent of current emissions belong to the United States and China, he said. Concrete action by China will be necessary for Congress to translate any agreements into law following the conference, he said.

On the other hand, he said he hopes that a climate change bill, which he called essentially a “jobs bill,” would be before Congress in the fall, demonstrating action by the United States. Progress at the G20 and summit meetings during the fall would also build momentum toward a successful conference, he said. His goal is that “diplomacy warms up, but the planet doesn’t.”

He listed the dire consequences of failure to act. Military experts, he noted, cite climate change as a “threat multiplier.” He offered the example of parts of Sudan that suffered less rainfall, seeking populations to impinge on others with more arable territory and contributing to violence. Kerry also cited arctic ice melt and loss of permafrost.

On the good news side, he said that 40 percent of needed U.S. emission reductions would be essentially free, due to increased efficiency. Much of the good news arose from China, now the second largest source of wind energy capacity. He described a pilot program to reduce emissions from steel plants that has been expanded to companies that produce one-third of China’s energy consumption.

Kerry described his vision of the future for China and other nations who are not willing to forego improvement in living standards to reduce emissions.

The Chinese, he said, have 500 million people living on less than $2 a day. He began with the example of the telegraph, unsuited to the written Chinese language, which led the country to leapfrog to the telephone. Likewise, he said, they “need not and must not” emulate the carbon based industrial processes the West experienced but leapfrog to 21st century cleaner technology.

Kerry said he hopes that the future version of the misguided question of the past, “Who lost China?” would not be “Who lost Earth?”