The evolution of US-China collaboration on environmental protection

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump in Beijing with President Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan on November 8, 2017 | Photo: State.gov

By Zhang Jianyu, Managing Director for Global Strategy, EDF. See also his interview in China DailyExpert: China, US now equals in pollution fight.

As one of the earliest representatives of an international environmental organization working in China, I have witnessed the progress of environmental protection collaboration between the US and China in the past 20 years and witnessed many specific incidents that have given me a good understanding of the different roles played by each country and how they have changed over time.

In 1999, the Chinese Premier at that time – Premier Zhu Rongji, visited the US and signed the very first environmental protection memorandum of collaboration between the Chinese and US environmental protection agencies. This memorandum spurred 10 collaborative sub-projects and was also the first practical environmental protection collaboration since the signing of the technology collaboration memorandum in 1979. The first sub-project was the SO2 emissions trading program, which EDF participated in creating. At the same time, I had just completed my studies in the US and was heading back to China to participate in this exciting, US- China environmental protection collaboration.

With the changes in China’s societal and economic developments and the political turnover in the US, the collaboration between the countries has entered a new phase that is showing new characteristics.

In the following years, China implemented several policies to promote the country’s environmental protection by referencing similar US policies and experiences such as pollution emissions trading, daily penalty system, green supply chain, and emissions permit system.

I had participated in the implementation of those policies and experienced first-hand how willing US colleagues were to share experiences and in return, how willing the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) was to learn from them. I will never forget when Ms. Cheryl Wasserman from the US EPA’s Compliance and Enforcement Bureau even enlisted her husband – who was working at EPA as well—to help record a remote training course on the top 10 characteristics of US environmental enforcement.

Recent U.S. administrations

Climate change is an important example of a new kind of bilateral relationship between China and the US. President Xi and President Obama had jointly issued three climate change-related agreements and set stage for the creation and success of the Paris Agreement and the developments in the arena of international climate change.

Both sides were working towards a common goal despite the differences in their positions and tension-filled negotiation processes. Fortunately, both nations’ leaders participated in person at the last minute and confirmed the US emissions reduction targets and China’s resolution to launch the largest carbon market in the world.

Today, with the changes in China’s societal and economic developments and the political turnover in the US, the collaboration between the countries has entered a new phase that is showing new characteristics.

Exchanges at the governmental level still continue. For example, in May 2017, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) visited the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Enforcement Investigation Center to conduct a survey in preparation for establishing a Chinese national environmental enforcement support agency.

Environmental issues also remain a critical bilateral focal point, as was the case at the U.S.-China Social and Cultural Dialogue concluded in Washington DC in Sept, 2017. In addition, the collaborations between the US states and Chinese provinces are still thriving.

Chinese companies are becoming more active on the global stage. On May 10, 2017, the CEOs from 30 multinational corporations, with EDF's support, issued a joint statement in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times urging the US government to stay in the Paris Agreement. For the first time in history, a CEO from a Chinese corporation – Mr. Zhang Yue from Broad Group was among them.

In the summer of 2017, California not only renewed  the AB-32 bill that was passed in 2013 to 2030, with the support of EDF, but continued to make efforts to expand its outreach. During California Governor Jerry Brown’s visit in June 2017, he was warmly received by President Xi. Prior to Governor Brown’s visit, he had expressed the interest in discussing with China the possibility of linking California ETS with China’s future national carbon market. EDF has been playing a bridging role in the formation of this initiative, and we hope to continue supporting both sides to fulfill their objectives.

Today

On President Trump’s first visit to China as president, he was accompanied by a trade delegation consisting of 29 U.S. corporate representatives, 11 of which represent energy and environment corporations.

Presidents Trump and Xi signed the US-China collaboration agreement, which includes text regarding energy and environmental protection cooperation – evidence that exchanges and collaboration in the energy and environment sectors are still a primary focus for the two countries’ strategic development.

As a witness and a participant of US-China environmental exchanges, I have personally felt the changes in the interactions between the US and China on environmental protection and from which represents a reflection of the changes in political relations between the two nations. I hope environmental protection will always be a key topic and connection for both sides as we only have one Earth.

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