China and US join forces against climate change

China and the US collaborating in the fight against climate change? Impossible, we hear you say. And yet, after years of public stand-offs, the world’s two largest planet warmers – with 40 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions between them – last week reached a ground-breaking deal in Washington DC.

Working closely with private sector and non-governmental stakeholders, the Working Group will develop implementation plans for the following five initiatives by October 2013:

  • Reducing emissions from heavy-duty and other vehicles: Heavy-duty vehicles are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in the United States and account for more than half of transportation fuel consumed in China. Light-duty vehicles also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, fuel use and air pollution. China and the U.S. will work together to raise heavy-duty fuel efficiency standards; produce cleaner fuels and vehicle emissions control technologies; and more efficient, clean freight.
  • Increasing carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS): Together, the United States and China account for more than 40 percent of global coal consumption. Emissions from coal combustion in the electric power and industrial sectors can be significantly reduced through CCUS. China and the United States will cooperate to overcome barriers to deploying CCUS by implementing several large-scale, integrated CCUS projects in both countries.
  • Increasing energy efficiency in buildings, industry, and transport: The United States and China recognize that there is significant scope for reducing emissions and reducing costs through comprehensive efforts to improve energy efficiency. Both sides commit to intensify their efforts, with an initial focus on promoting the energy efficiency of buildings, which account for over 30 percent of energy use in both countries, including through the use of innovative financing models.
  • Improving greenhouse gas data collection and management: Both countries place a high priority on comprehensive, accurate reporting of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions data to track progress in reducing emissions and to develop and implement mitigation policies. The United States will work with China to build capacity for collection and management of greenhouse gas emissions data, a critical foundation for smart climate change policies in both countries.
  • Promoting smart grids: The power sector accounts for over one third of U.S. and Chinese carbon emissions. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector and put in place a resilient, low-carbon power grid, both countries are developing modern, “smart” grid systems, deploying renewable and clean energy, and improving demand management. The U.S. and China will collaborate on building smart grids that are more resilient, more efficient, and can incorporate more renewable energy and distributed generation.

Both countries are looking at quick fixes for greenhouse gases other than CO2. They will phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), used as refrigerants, and harmonise vehicle emissions standards. That will include smoke emissions from large trucks, which also damages human lungs.

Observers said the biggest advance by the US-China Working Group on Climate Change was an agreement to work together to find commercial uses for CO2 captured from power plants – rather than letting it loose or storing it. The deal includes a promise to build large-scale demonstration projects.

“The focus on carbon capture and utilisation is important,” says Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development in Washington DC. It could push forward schemes to use CO2 in cement, he said. “Storing CO2 in our highways and buildings is smart technology and smart business.”

The two countries also pledged to collaborate on smart power grids that can make greater use of intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, and to identify the top ten energy efficiency technologies before their next meeting in October.

Sources: New Scientist and the US Department of State

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