Roundtable on California-China cooperation on climate change

On June 5, Chair Robert Weisenmiller of the California Energy Commission and Secretary Matthew Rodriquez of the California Environmental Protection Agency discussed the unprecedented cooperation between California and China to combat climate change, promote clean and efficient energy, and support low carbon development. Hosted by Bingham McCutchen in San Francisco, the sold-out audience included representatives from the clean technology and energy industries, local governments, academia, and civil society.

In a panel discussion moderated by Annie Notthoff of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Secretary Rodriquez and Chair Weisenmiller started by noting what an enormous challenge and opportunity it is for California and China to cooperate on improving air quality for both sides of the Pacific Ocean.  This effort is supported by a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the two governments in September 2013, as well as a number of other MOUs and agreements between California and the central or provincial governments in China.

Three speakers

From left: Annie Notthoff, NRDC (moderator), Chair Robert Weisenmiller, CEC, and Secretary Matthew Rodriquez, Cal/EPA. Photo: Fran Schulberg

Several areas of cooperation were highlighted, especially pertaining to energy efficiency, low carbon development, and other sustainable development efforts. Chair Weisenmiller mentioned how some of California’s regulatory structure can be adapted to China’s structure to assist them in making the transition from coal. He noted that China is now looking at a cap on coal by 2017. He stressed that this is the right time to collaborate with both decision makers at the central and provincial levels in China because, as he declared, “Climate is one of the defining challenges of our time.”

Secretary Rodriquez highlighted how cooperation on climate change and energy between California and China is a tremendous benefit to both economies by providing numerous opportunities for Californa and Chinese businesses to work together, especially within the energy efficiency and cleantech sectors. The market potential in China is staggering. He also noted that the newly opened California-China Office of Trade and Investment in Shanghai (part of the Bay Area Council and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz)) will help bolster additional business opportunities on both sides of the Pacific.

Secretary Rodriquez underscored that there have been concrete actions and follow-up since the signing of these agreements to ensure that they become more than just “paper MOUs”. Such follow-up has included at least three delegations from California’s Air Resource Board that have traveled to China to discuss air quality issues including PM2.5, as well as trips to California by officials from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection. During these visits, Secretary Rodriquez has been amazed by the number of Chinese officials who have mentioned that despite California’s previous air pollution issues, the state learned how to improve its air quality while concurrently growing the economy—something that China wishes to do.  Secretary Rodriquez emphasized that when you see a willing partner who is interested in tackling these problems together, you can’t back away.

Barbara Finamore, President of the China-U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance, recently commented on the cooperation between California and China. “It is exciting to see the initiatives between California and China to cooperate on targeting and reducing the sources of harmful air pollutants. The MOUs signed between both parties in the past two years have created a solid working foundation for state agencies, businesses, civil society, and academia to collaborate on trade and investment initiatives while simultaneously addressing air pollution and climate change.” Finamore is optimistic that there will be great opportunities for private sector and non-governmental organizations to be involved in some of the MOU implementation plans.