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Sen. John Kerry, "America and China on the Road to Copenhagen: Toward a Climate Change Partnership," July 29, 2009

Chairman Kerry Discusses Climate Change At National Press Club.
July 29, 2009

 Below are Chairman Kerry’s remarks, as delivered:
When Richard Nixon first visited China back in 1972, that journey seemed far longer than the seven thousand miles that actually separate Washington from Beijing.    He was bridging the gap between two worlds separated for a generation. 

President Nixon understood that such a moment demanded a dramatic signal to drive home a new diplomatic reality.  To do that, he chose a simple gesture, but one laden with meaning.   Zhou Enlai, China’s premier, had nursed a grudge ever since Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to shake his hand back in 1954.   And so, when Nixon walked out onto the tarmac in Beijing, he took several steps toward Zhou with his hand obviously, unmistakably outstretched.  The message was clear—and powerful—and it marked a watershed in US China relations. 

Our two nations have just met again at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the most important forum in our bilateral relationship.    Only this time, it’s not just our geopolitics that are changing—but the earth itself.  Global climate change poses a real and present danger of environmental destruction and human dislocation on a scale we’ve never seen.

That is why Generals and Admirals—some of whom appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week—have labeled climate change a “threat multiplier” and a serious national security threat.
America and China must therefore seek to change the world again.  Once again, we need to send a strong signal. But a handshake alone won’t get the job done: nothing less than a complete and collaborative transformation of the global energy economy will be enough to tackle this crisis.

This week, China’s leaders traveled to Washington eager to meet with familiar colleagues and continue a well-established dialogue.   But between our peoples, especially on the subject of climate change, there is still mistrust and misunderstanding: too many Americans are convinced that China won’t lift a finger to fight climate change, or that China will hurt us economically if we do. Similarly, too many in China fear that the United States is merely attempting to smother China’s economic rise. And too many in the world believe that neither country will take credible and necessary action.

Personally, I believe all the doubters are wrong—but it’s up to us to craft a partnership with China that proves them wrong. What’s needed are simple gestures, backed by strong actions and concrete decisions, to move forward in a new direction. 

Senator Lugar and I hosted the Chinese delegation this morning for breakfast, and we shared a frank, direct, and productive discussion about what was accomplished at this week’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and where we now stand. 

Both countries now recognize that imbalances in our economies have fed the global economic crisis—and we must work together to correct them.  For China, that means adjusting its high savings rate to allow for a more consumption-driven economy.  For America, it means reinvigorating our export industries and encouraging our consumers to save more.  I am pleased that Vice Premier Wang Qishan and Secretary Geithner agreed so clearly and publicly on the path forward.   China also deserves credit for taking dramatic steps to ensure a more open market for US goods and services, and treating foreign-invested enterprises equally in its government procurement process.  These are major steps forward, and a signal of China’s good faith. 
Politically, we made cautious but important moves to coordinate our foreign policies. On North Korea, China and America are working more closely than ever before.  On Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, we put in place the framework for a greater partnership going forward.  Secretary Clinton and others did not shy away from difficult but necessary conversations about human rights and ethnic minorities, especially those in Tibet and Xinjiang.  Overall, Secretaries Clinton and Geithner have helped to shore up the relationship and developed strong ties with their Chinese counterparts.
That’s the good news.  The bad news?  On climate change, perhaps the single greatest challenge we face, more could have and should have been achieved. We did sign a confidential memorandum of understanding that included language on climate change.  But the dates, timelines, and roadmap toward an agreement—the fully defined mutuality of effort between our two countries—did not materialize.  To build the trust and momentum necessary to make December’s Copenhagen international climate negotiations a success, we need to emphasize—formally, publicly, and immediately—concrete agreements that convey our seriousness of purpose. 

Let me share with you the reality of what we are dealing with:  Unless we act dramatically—and act fast— science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy.   I won’t dwell on the science, but just review for a moment the basics: In the industrial era, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen from 280 to 385 parts per million.  Scientists have drawn a red line at 450ppm — which represents a warming of 2 degrees Celsius—and the G8 has embraced that red line.  Anything beyond that presents an unacceptable risk.  But unless we take dramatic action—now—we are actually headed to 1,000 ppm by century’s end.  And today, over 40% of those emissions belong to the United States and China.

Those are the facts—and the reality is, we’re simply not doing enough to address them.  In fact, nobody is. The Heinz Center, MIT, and The Fletcher School developed state-of-the art models to analyze the impacts of fully implementing all seventeen national climate change policies proposed to date.  They found that even if we met all of these ambitious policy goals – including President Obama’s target of 80% by 2050 – we’re still projected to hit 600-700 ppm by century’s end. That’s disastrous.  Bottom line: none of the current proposals get the job done.  The challenge is growing more – not less—urgent. 
Undeniably, all of us must do more to meet it.  But China and America—the world’s largest emitter today and history’s largest cumulative emitter—have a special responsibility.  192 nations will gather this December in Copenhagen to hammer out a new global climate treaty.  Two will set the tone and define what is possible.   The crucial question is:  can America and China forge a partnership capable of acting boldly enough to prevent a climate catastrophe?  Science tells us, the answer had better be “yes.” 

The good news is, we have a strong foundation to build on.  We’ve developed a broad set of ongoing close collaborations with China on energy, the environment and even climate change.  One example of the kind of success we’ve had—and the kind we need to replicate—is a pilot energy efficiency program the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab created at two steel plants in Shandong.  The project went so well that Beijing got excited about it—and expanded the pilot into a nationwide program covering China’s top one thousand energy-consuming enterprises.  These companies account for one-third of China’s total energy consumption, and the government-mandated reductions will be roughly sixteen times the electricity consumed by New York City.

Successful collaborations like this one helped convince Chinese leaders to embrace a Ten Year Framework for US-China energy cooperation last year, as well as the agreement—signed just last week in China with Energy and Commerce Secretaries Steven Chu and Gary Locke—to build joint clean energy research centers. 

In May, I visited China and met with political and military leaders, energy executives, scientists, students, and environmentalists to gauge China’s seriousness and build momentum toward a deal this December.  What I found was a country that had undergone a sea change. Today, Chinese investment in renewable capacity is second in the world only to Germany.  They have tripled their wind capacity goals in the last two years. In the last three years, China has improved its energy intensity by 10%. China has publicly announced its intention to become the world’s number one producer of electric cars.   Leaders who weren’t even willing to entertain this discussion ten years ago are now equally unequivocal—only this time, they’re arguing that China grasps the urgency and is ready to be a “positive, constructive” player in international climate talks.  

It’s an impressive turnaround, and I wish that, by itself, it were enough.  But it isn’t.  Aspirational statements cannot stand in for legal commitments on the international stage. That’s why I went to China this spring– to communicate that America understands that we do have an obligation to lead, and we will.  But China needs to understand that we will not enter into a global treaty without a meaningful commitment from China to be part of the solution.   
If we want to arrive where we all know we need to go, we have to be practical about how we get there.  This will happen in stages.  The debate we should be having right now is, what schedule and what scale will China act on—and will it be enough?  We must persuade China that quick and decisive action is actually in its own interest. To get there, we must build a broad and deep collaboration based on what China can and will do now. 
Here’s why: to get China to act, we need to understand how China sees this issue.  Their narrative of how our two nations reached this point in time is very different from ours.  Where we see an economic powerhouse, Chinese see 500-million of their countrymen living on less than $2 a day.  Where we see a rising power, they see a proud nation only now emerging from two hundred years of attacks and exploitation.  Where we see the great global emitter of the future, China sees itself as a country that has emitted less than its share historically—and far less than our share.  So when we ask China to cap its emissions, those who want to pass the blame or minimize the threat have a ready-made storyline.

Of course, neither side has a monopoly on the truth.  The reality I saw in China is deeply at odds with the way China is depicted in our domestic debate over climate policy: as a country unwilling to recognize the threat of climate change or alter its energy use in response.  That image of China – conjured up by politicians and pundits—is of a country I barely recognize.

Our challenge has been—and remains—to change these narratives. We need to replace them with a successful collaboration that benefits both sides by addressing reality, then improving it.  And great power politics alone won’t get this done.  We need joint leadership on global issues.  
Step by step, we can shift our focus from the difficulty of compromise to the inescapable reality of a clean energy future.  That’s why the research and development partnership negotiated by Secretary Chu and Secretary Locke is so important. 

Eventually, we need China to be in a position to fully accept that while our energy futures may be linked, China need not and must not emulate our energy past.  A century before Nixon’s visit, the Chinese found that the telegram was impractical for their system of writing.  So they “leapfrogged” technologies and went straight for another new American invention: the telephone.  Today we need China to forgo the carbon-intensive industrial processes that fueled the West in the 19th and 20th centuries to pioneer the clean technologies of the 21st. 
We should use the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Major Economies Forum and other venues to convince China to take concrete and tangible steps forward. We should fully support new joint R&D efforts and also launch high-profile clean energy demonstration projects.  Together we can bring to scale and commercialize new technologies—especially carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power plants.

Today’s crisis also demands that we invest in developing the skills and capacity of American and Chinese workers to help us move into the new energy economy and grab the low-hanging fruit: according to McKinsey and Company, 40% of America’s potential reductions in emissions actually pay for themselves. McKinsey also found that a $70 billion investment in energy-saving emissions reductions from China would pay for itself.  Clean energy solutions will require new expertise from builders, engineers, and contractors—and entirely new professions from energy auditors to retrofitting experts.   To advance energy efficiency, we will have to train a clean energy corps in each of our countries.  Transforming our energy use can’t just happen in Washington and Beijing—it must be implemented locally by people in cities and villages across both nations.  And guess what?  That will create jobs. 

Building such capacity and working from the bottom up isn’t an alternative to a global deal—it’s a prerequisite for getting a deal done—because it helps China make the long-term emission reduction commitments we all know China must eventually accept. 

While we work with China, we also need to begin talking intensively about climate and development with nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  As we have learned in our discussions with the Chinese, we need to offer countries win-win choices.  We have to figure out what matters in each of our bilateral relationships and build on these core areas to achieve a lasting partnership on climate.  Ultimately, all will have to be part of a global deal—but getting from here to there will require a great deal of tough diplomacy and hard work.

Secretary Clinton’s visit to India this month offered a fresh reminder of the challenges.  India’s rhetoric was as strident as China’s ever was.  We need to build a climate partnership with India, too, working from the same principles but respecting the massive differences. If India took full advantage of its energy efficiency opportunities, experts say it could substantially reduce it’s construction of new power plants. Some even suggest it wouldn't have to build another power plant for a decade! That’s why State Department-funded joint efficiency labs are already working in Delhi and Mumbai, and why they will soon expand their collaboration to all of the states in India.  With China we focused on energy efficiency and coal technology.  For India, energy efficiency is equally important—but India’s geography and grid suggest we focus on solar thermal technology—which could provide 10% of India’s electricity as soon as a decade from now.

Ultimately, our climate diplomacy depends on building a framework that is flexible enough to accommodate individual countries’ wants and needs, but firm enough to bring all of us on board and hold all nations accountable.  That is the challenge we face: one that will be made easier as people everywhere begin to realize that in the twenty-first century, the challenge of developing clean energy sources isn’t a brake on economic growth—it is the engine.      
This is good news, because the global economy needs a new engine for growth right now.  Which is why, alongside American entrepreneurs like John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, China, too, is racing to embrace these technologies. China has expanded its solar capacity goals from less than two gigawatts to twenty gigawatts, with a new increase just last month.  Twenty gigawatts is more than triple the amount of solar power installed in the entire world during 2008.   China now produces one-half of all solar capacity in the world.  Those who say China will act in its economic self-interest have a point.  But they fail to see that when China builds wind farms, China is acting in its self-interest.  

New York Times columnistTom Friedman has been watching this closely: he’s seen how aggressive clean energy standards in China and Germany have led to burgeoning industries with tens of thousands of jobs.   Meanwhile, of the top thirty companies in the world in solar, wind and advanced batteries—technologies we invented here in the United States— just five are now based in America.  Which is why Tom Friedman takes the argument that climate legislation will cost American jobs and flips it on its head.  He says that unless we significantly ramp up our efforts, China’s clean energy industry will—and I quote—“clean our clock.”  

I believe that the pie is large enough for America and China’s economies to grow green together.  But I know that, no matter what any other country does, by acting to address climate change, we can secure America’s place—and American jobs—in the energy economy of the future.

Ultimately, we will be measured by what we can achieve together.  Sixty years ago, when China went in a direction we could not understand, a single accusatory question cast a shadow over our foreign policy debate:  “Who Lost China”?    Back then we were naïve enough to think we could singlehandedly control the destiny of a country of a billion people.    But truly, if we fail today to create the partnership we need—if we fail to persuade China to act to stave off climate change—we risk facing another “Who Lost China” moment of regret and recrimination.   We now understand China isn’t ours to lose—but all of us will lose out if do not act to protect the health of our climate and the security of our people. 
Twenty years from now, I do not want to be debating “Who Lost Earth”!

When we look back on these years, I want to be able to tell a different story—– one in which America’s climate partnership with China becomes the clear beginning of a new era: where Americans embrace clean energy—where a 21st-century grid supports cutting-edge energy technology that modernizes America and creates millions of new jobs—where billions of Indians and Chinese are lifted out of poverty and see clean energy as an opportunity for development—and where diplomacy warms up, but the planet doesn’t, because the world’s two largest emitters came together to take responsibility and deliver change. 

Those are the stakes, and this can be our world.  But it won’t happen by accident.    When Nixon visited China, he quoted some writings from China’s leader:  "Time passes. Ten thousand years are too long. Seize the day, seize the hour."    We made real progress at this week’s meetings, but we don’t have ten thousand years to fix climate change—we don’t even have ten years.   If we want to create the US-China climate partnership the world needs, China needs, and America needs, we have to seize the day.  We have to seize the hour.  We have to act, and we can.  Thank you.