California Moves With Chinese Provinces On Climate

The United States and China made headlines last year with their Climate Pact, but significant collaboration had already occurred at the subnational levels. Both California and several of China’s provinces launched emissions trading systems (ETS) in 2013, and they have been working together ever since. Now, a new report highlights the latest accomplishments and partnerships.

March 10, 2015 | When China and the United States announced their Climate Pact to great fanfare last November, the bilateral pledge’s talk of “contributions” shifted the conversation from shared commitments to “common but differentiated responsibilities”: the idea that historical economic differences leads to different responsibilities to tackle climate change today.

Yet, for all its talk of differences, both countries already shared a commitment in the form of subnational emissions trading schemes (ETS).

The California – China Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was the first formal agreement on climate change issues between a US state and China. The MOU was signed back in 2013, when both the state of California and several Chinese provinces launched their ETS.

Since then, there has been a steady stream of officials and experts crossing the pond to share their experiences and form new collaborations. A new report called Vital Partnership, launched last week by the Asia Society, examines the latest collaborations and partnerships between the two.


The Lure of California

With an economy that outweighs most countries, it’s no surprise that California’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) has attracted attention outside its borders. Its subsequent success has only heighted that interest: since its inception in 2013, Californian capped sectors have lowered emissions by 3.8% while the state has maintained economic and job growth that has outpaced the national average.

As China looks to ramp up its seven pilot ETSs into a consolidated national system, the country hopes to replicate California’s economic and environmental prosperity. This has led to a number of agreements and partnerships across a range of actors.

The report tracked fourteen various partnerships currently in effect, with participants drawn across a host of organizations including civil society (research organizations, foundations and NGOs), businesses, government and public utilities.

Four such agreements focus directly on the emissions trading systems, while the rest address such topics as air pollution control, zero emissions vehicles and low carbon technologies.

Though its difficult to make sweeping generalizations about these various partnerships, the report does note that: “What California and its counterparts in China have come to understand is that mutual benefits can flow from such partnerships, not only in the quest for climate change solutions, but also in catalyzing increased trade and investment in clean technology.”


Bridging the Public/Private Divide

Perhaps the most prominent partnership exists between the California Air Resources Board (ARB) and the Chinese equivalent called the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

Before signing the agreement, California Governor Jerry Brown said, “I see the partnership between China, between provinces in China, and the state of California as a catalyst and as a lever to change policies in the United States and ultimately change policies throughout the world.”

Formalized on September 13, 2013, the MOU lays out cooperation between the two agencies on key issues, including: mitigating carbon emissions, strengthening performance standards to control greenhouse gas emissions, designing and implementing carbon emissions trading systems, sharing information on policies and programs to strengthen low-carbon development, and researching clean and efficient energy technologies.

ARB has since hosted five Chinese delegations and four webinars, the latest of which also included officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

US-based civil society organizations have also helped China get their pilot ETS programs off the ground.

Within civil society, The Energy Foundation has been engaged since 2011 with several of the pilot ETS jurisdictions to get them off the ground. Though the organization collaborated with NDRC, it primarily worked with equivalent local entities (such as the Guangzhou Energy Research Institute and Tsinghua University) to help these Chinese civil society organizations draft the initial ETS regulations and establish harmonized monitoring, reporting and verification rules across the pilots. Now, the organization is supporting Guangdong, Shenzhen and Beijing to carry out qualitative and quantitative evaluations of their pilot ETSs and impacts on emissions, the environment and economy through March 2015.

As that project wraps up, the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Mobile Source ETS Integration project will be getting off the ground. The five-year project, launched last year between EDF and the Shenzhen Low Carbon Development Foundation will focus on reducing air pollution from “mobile” transportation sources like cars and buses.

Currently, such sources account for nearly 30% of the city’s total emissions and have been increasing at a rate of 15% each year. The research seeks to reduce air pollution from transport through carbon emissions trading and seek to test the feasibly of expanding emissions trading systems to mobile sources. It will start with public transport, but hopes to expand to include private vehicles, freight, railway and marine transport over the course of the 5-year project.

“This partnership will tackle one of the world’s most vexing greenhouse gas emissions challenges – controlling pollution from transportation, an especially fast growing source in China,” said Dan Dudek, EDF’s Vice President and Head of the China Program. “China is the world’s largest auto market, so solving the global climate challenge not only requires China manage its greenhouse gas emissions, it requires China address pollution from mobile sources. China’s experiences could provide valuable lessons for the U.S. in reducing emissions from its transport sector.”

The partnership stems from US Department of State’s EcoPartnership program, which promotes cooperation between local governments and organizations in the U.S. and China in climate and energy issues relating to the U.S – China Ten Year Framework on Energy and Environment Cooperation or Climate Change Working Group. New 2015 applications are currently accepted through March 20.

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