China and US jockey on climate

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China is going above and beyond in preparation for next week's climage change summit in Copenhagen. Officials have come up with a plan for reducing greenhouse gases. But they're also outlining ways to clean up its air, land, water, and in the process, its image. Anchor Marco Werman finds out more from Orville Schell of the Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations.

MARCO WERMAN: When the Copenhagen climate talks finally get underway next week, China will likely play a big role. China is now the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It's also emerging as a leader in climate and energy policy. Like the US, China has unveiled a plan, ahead of next week's talks, for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. But China is doing much more than that, according to Orville Schell. He directs the Asia Society's Center on US-China Relations, and was recently in China.

ORVILLE SCHELL: They are doing a tremendous amount. A lot of effort in renewable energy, in wind and solar, tremendously aggressive program in energy efficiency, which what is proverbially called the low-hanging fruit, because if you can reduce the amount of energy it takes to produce let's say a golf club or a toaster or something, you actually are able to pocket money. So the Chinese are very interested in that, because they can make money by becoming more efficient.

WERMAN: Is the Chinese government setting up solar and wind farms and did you see any of them?

SCHELL: Yes. They're doing it very aggressively and they're number two in terms of wind generation in the world. Their solar industries, which are not being marketed so much in China, but very aggressively abroad, are extremely well evolved and growing every larger. So they are making enormous steps in the fields of green technology and renewable energy technology. And I think in the last year or so, they have come to recognize that the economic future of their country will lie in this next great revolution. The post information technology revolution is I think undeniably going to be a green tech revolution.

WERMAN: Well the science is increasingly clear, climate change is happening and it will have significant, and in some cases, dire consequences: seal level rise, drought, flood, extreme weather. Is it fair to say that China has allowed the science to guide its policy making to a larger degree than the United States?

SCHELL: You know, curiously, the leadership in the central government is quite well apprised. Before President Bush left office, you had a real discontinuity, I think, in terms of the awareness that the Chinese leaders had of this issue, recently arrived at to be sure, and that of our present government. Now we have a kind of a curious switch where our presidential administration is very up to speed and aware of the science behind it, and in a certain sense is right at the same level as the Chinese central government leadership. But the problem is the US Congress. And in a certain sense, that's not just Obama's problem. It's now the problem of the Chinese leadership too, because if the Congress doesn't act, China's not going to act.

WERMAN: With the Chinese waiting on the US and the US waiting on the Chinese, can either afford to wait out for one or the other to kind of give in on this?

SCHELL: Well that's what we've been doing for the past ten years, and this is now the crux of the negotiation: who's going to give what? So Obama is sort of trapped by Congress. He has a bill that's passed the house. It's committed to 17 percent cuts which is under 4 percent of the cuts that the Europeans have committed to, and the Chinese have also now committed themselves to a 40 percent cut by 2020 in what it costs to produce something in terms of energy. So how do you compare these things? That's the problem we're now at. Nobody quite knows how to get the apples to look like oranges and to be able to say, "Well, that effort is worth this much. Our effort is worth that much and it is comparable."

WERMAN: With China's growing political and economic leadership on climate and energy, I'm wondering if you can envision a scenario where they actually make the US in the future look to them as a leader on this?

SCHELL: Well, I do worry. One of the senses I had being in China with the whole Obama trip was that you really saw in the starkest way how the playing field has leveled. And Obama really arrived in China with no cards to play. He had no money. He couldn't, on the climate question especially, really articulate what our position was, because Congress hasn't passed a bill and he felt it would be counterproductive to do so. He finally did commit himself to a number, the number of the House bill, but that doesn't really commit the US, so China's still waiting. So that makes it very difficult for the US and China to actually come to an agreement in Copenhagen. I think they'll try, but it will be a sort of an aspirational one on the US side, because Congress could blow it up in a heartbeat if they chose to.

WERMAN: Orville Schell is Arthur Ross director for the Asia Society Center on US-China Relations. Very good to speak with you. Thanks a lot.

SCHELL: Pleasure.