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The motto of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is ‘knowledge in the public service.’  This publication of mine from September 2012 is made available to the public free of charge here by downloadable PDF.

Book Cover

INTRODUCTION

At the time of my initial appointment to the Wilson Center, it struck me that something was missing from the general discussion in the United States concerning China’s embrace of clean energy and its implications for the United States. Much of what had been written embraced one of two polar positions. It seemed that the U.S.-China relationship in clean energy was either the best avenue for our cooperation or the measuring stick for our final competition. To a casual but concerned reader, the message was confusing. Newspaper “word-bites,” rather than informing discussion, lent anxiety to the existing confusion. The Woodrow Wilson Center provided me time and resources to examine the facts about clean technology (“cleantech”) and China. This was timely. Government agencies, think tanks and trade associations hoping to influence the policy debate began in February 2009 to release a spate of lengthy and in-depth policy reports, many of them technical in nature. We will learn in Chapter One how and why that gusher of information—which has thrown up literally shelf-feet of reports over the past year and a half— suddenly arose. However, for the purposes of this Introduction, it is simply worth noting that these policy tomes, for all that they did serve to provide data-based context to what had previously been “context-free” highly combustible reporting, did not offer much help to an interested non-specialist in making better sense of the main issues. At this “informed” end of the information spectrum, there was now almost too much information spread across too many specialized viewpoints. For a busy entrepreneur, investment manager, business professional, state or local government official, regional economic development analyst, scientific researcher, or engaged student—in fact, for any concerned “global citizen” wanting to understand the issues in a straightforward and streamlined way— it was famine or feast. A super-abundance of highly-specialized information provides not much more help in gaining an efficient grasp of the core issues than scattershot newspaper and media reporting had offered. Sustaining U.S.-China Clean Energy Cooperation 3 This book aims squarely at the “middle ground” of curiosity and interest in this broad topic. At the outset, I would like to be clear about three “operating assumptions” I have built in: Timeframe The three main chapters are concerned with the three-year period from mid-2008 to mid-2011. Except for one digression involving Five Year Plans which covers a 30-year period, this limitation on perspective actually helps bring the main subject matter into better focus. The bulk of the U.S. political effort to engage with China in the clean energy arena took shape during the 2008 Presidential Campaign and was further framed through policy initiatives of the Obama administration. For a new industrial ecosystem like “cleantech” or clean energy, what is relevant is defined by what has most recently happened. It is only in the Conclusion that the time-frame is pulled back to show that some of the dynamics described in preceding chapters are, in fact, related to deeper and more long-standing trends in the overall U.S.-China relationship. Structure As author, I have insisted on an organizational principle for presenting information which puts me at odds with the conventional approach of “Beltway” experts. In Washington, the tendency is to run all relevant information through what I will call the “policy blender” and to present the resulting product as a mix of policy recommendation, policy analysis, and policy refutation. I take a different approach. I believe that the policy process is best served when the three main aspects of business-relevant policy are broken down and viewed separately in their own right. These are: (a) the politics underlying the policy process; (b) the technology innovations which policy initiatives aim to support; and (c) the investment ultimately required to take any technology innovation to scale in the marketplace, thereby driving policy on a long-term and sustainable basis. Rather than jumble these perspectives, I treat them in Merritt t. Cooke 4 separate chapters and try to adopt the relevant “mind-set” of each in presenting material in the respective chapter. This may be nothing more than a reflection of my former training as a cultural anthropologist, but I believe it is useful—within the complex arena of China, the United States, and energy—in revealing underlying dynamics. For this reason, in the U.S. section of the opening chapter on Politics, I will rely heavily on the words of key political actors. Ours is a system where the president needs to persuade the electorate and what is said matters. In the section on Chinese Politics, the approach is different, relying instead on “structural analysis” of the ruling party and its interests. In each case, the attempt is to adopt a perspective particularly suited to its subject matter. Purpose The Woodrow Wilson Center’s motto is “knowledge in the public service.” Woodrow Wilson epitomized the ideal of the “practitioner scholar”—the part-time scholar who devotes some of his or her career to bringing scholarly research into the practical, socially-relevant domains of government or business or non-profit work. This is the spirit with which I have written this book. I am neither a career academic nor a professional policymaker. I have tried to make this book clear and concise, although it involves a complex, and fast-changing topic. Especially for technically inclined readers, I want to acknowledge that no sector domain in the U.S.-China clean energy field can be adequately reduced to a couple of pages. I believe this topic is an important one. If the United States and China find a way to realistically base and sustain their cooperation in clean energy, they will be addressing directly 40 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions. And if together they manage to create a replicable model of cooperation, they can indirectly help the world address the remaining 60 percent. At its core, this topic touches everyone—those who care deeply about America’s place in the world, those who are moved by China’s epochal reemergence, those who are environmentally-engaged, and those who are responsible global citizens. Students are a particularly important audience because the tectonic issue described in this book will ultimately be the felt experience of their generation. In short, I hope that this book may be found to present important issues in a balanced way and to offer something useful and readily comprehensible to anyone with enough interest to pick it up.

View the Wilson Center’s Book Launch Event here

Yes, You’re On The Road to Paris

Let’s take the second question first.  How did you find yourself on the road to Paris?  Well, that’s because you’re a human being sharing in the planet’s oxygen, foodstuffs and other resources, and because you, like your other human planetary co-habitants, have ceded some of your autonomy to governments since the dawn of civilization.  From that view, the 2015 Road to Paris is the effort being undertaken by all the nations in the world to take their first meaningful step together toward averting the risk of planetary environmental destabilization.  It’s encouraging that this first big step looks likely to happen in 2015, because the nations of the world have been talking about the step, without taking it, since 1995.

What is this step?  Essentially, it’s the world all signing on together to a insurance plan at the global level. The insurance plan hedges against the increasingly clear and present danger of climate change tipping us into a non-sustainable (for humans and most mammals, that is) future.

Before describing the Paris destination in December 2015 (and detailing the circuitous route we have been traveling since 1995 to arrive in Paris), let’s dispatch one canard forthwith: there is no certainty.  The climate change discourse is all-too-often framed in the media and our daily conversations as a dialogue of the deaf between passionate proponents and equally passionate deniers. For most, the weight of scientific data — as well as their intuitive, non-scientific “felt experience” — has been clearly elevating the possibility, if not the probability, that  self-reinforcing cycles of warming are being triggered as a result of the post-industrial patterns of carbon and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  (see the Introductory chapter of The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans for a clear-headed discussion of our risks of overstepping nine particular boundaries that are required for maintaining human-friendly planetary balance).

Here’s the point:  None of us should be talking about certainty.  No environmentalist, no matter how committed, can say with certainty that we are headed toward human-triggered environmental disaster. No skeptic of climate change can say, at least not with credence, that there is zero risk.  The focus needs to be on the twins facts that (a) there is clearly some risk and that (b) the consequences of inattention to, or mismanagement of, this risk are so high as to be unaffordable at every level  .  No general fighting for military survival can wait until all of the pertinent facts of the battlefield are known before engaging in battle. Choices have to be made, and actions taken, in the absence of perfect knowledge.   I submit that we all should be able to agree — or, at least, enough of us for an effective consensus — to taking steps at the local, national and global level to mitigate this imperfectly understood risk while there is still time to do so.

Road to Paris

So What Is ‘The Road To Paris’ in 2015 (and how did we get here)?

The ‘Road to Paris’ refers to this year’s leg of the global journey we have been on since 1995.  This somewhat quixotic journey has been to try to address, as a community of nations, the risks of climate change.  Since this is, by definition, a supra-national effort, this journey has been undertaken under United Nations auspices (since the United States and the other leading Allied nations coming out of World War II set up the United Nations precisely as the forum to deal with this type of supra-national, global challenge).

This being the U.N., there is some mind-numbing nomenclature and an alphabet soup of acronyms to deal with.  There is also the inherent frustration embedded in dealing with the world (where, if you’re a non-diplomatically inclined person, it’s frustrating to find that people don’t latch on to what you think is the right way of doing things right away).  As to the nomenclature and acronyms, I’ll just cover the three most important ones for present purposes:  The framework which has governed this process since it got going in 1995 with “The Berlin Mandate” is known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or UNFCCC).  The framework is carried forward through yearly conferences, sometimes at the head of state level and sometimes at the ministerial level, which are called Conference of Party meetings (or COP).  Finally, the groundwork for the UNFCCC & COP meetings was originally prepared, and continues to be scientfically led, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( or IPCC).  Established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organizaiton in 1988, the IPCC acts as the leading international body for the scientific assessment of climate change to guide the poltiical work of the UNFCCC and its COP meetings.

Got that?  Good.  It gets easier to follow the roadmap from here on in.

As mentioned, The Berlin Mandate in 1995 was the starting point for the global effort to come up with some form of global response to the emerging global threat of climate change.  That led after two years of talking to high hopes at Kyoto that the world community would agree to an action plan (the so-called Kyoto Protocol). An action plan did in fact take shape but left unresolved key issues between the industrialized countries (who were being asked to underwrite most of the cost for the various action mechanisms) and developing countries (who were being asked to implement these mechanisms at possible risk to their economic growth prospects).  As a result of these tensions, the U.S. Congress refused to ratify the treaty after President Clinton signed it and the Bush Administration subsequently repudiated the treaty explicitly.

Without U.S. participation, the UNFCCC bus careened around various COP destinations (Buenos Aires, Bonn, Marrakech, New Delhi, Milan, Montreal, Nairobi, Bali, Poznan, Copenhagen, Cancun Durban, Doha and Warsaw — with repeat forays to some) for the next 17 years without any fundamental resolution to the “who pays” question and without any real semblance of  full global consensus emerging.

This changed on November 11, 2014 when Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping made surprise joint announcements on U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change and Clean Energy.  This breakthrough  —  involving the world’s two largest economies, two largest carbon-emitters, and de-facto leaders of the two contending blocs within the UNFCCC process  — was then further consolidated at the next scheduled COP meeting, scarcely a month later, in Lima, Peru (COP 20).

As a result of the November 11th breakthrough between the U.S. and China and the further COP20 institutionalization of this breakthrough on a global basis, the world community is finally on the threshold of a full consensus of action steps to take following the December 2015 heads of state COP meeting in Paris.  Currently, all the countries in the world are committed to preparing their voluntary plans (based on loosely-shared parameters and metrics).    Those plans are expected to be delivered in the spring of 2015 for discussion, review and fine-tuning during the remainder of the 2015 calendar year.  In December, the heads of state of the world community will convene to formally agree and commit to this set of  national action-plans representing the entire world community.

Conclusion (and Teaser for Next Installment)

It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.  As someone who rowed crew, I’m a believer in everybody pulling their oar in the same direction even if the level of output varies.  At the global level, the United Nations is far from perfect but it’s all we got (and we in the United States need to recognize that we had a disproportionate voice in making it what it is).

President Obama’s State of the Union address today will lay out some of the roadmap — past and future — which I’ve more minutely and ponderously described here.  He will do so because the risk of de-stabilizing climate change perennially jostles with global terrorism at the very top of the country’s national security threat-list.  He’ll do so for other reasons, though — reasons that go beyond U.S. national security interest.  At the individual level of morality, we each need to think about the impact of our decisions and our actions for those we live with and for those who will follow later.  At the species level (where morality does not really play a part but evolutionary survival does), it would be nice to emerge a winner — a species that figures out how to survive and, in doing so, recognizes its interdependence with the rest of the planet, sentient and non-sentient.

Having tried to do the big picture here, I’ll be back soon to focus on the U.S.-China element of this global equation.  That’s the part of this formula that I have been working with since 2006.  I hope that my broad brushstrokes in this piece help bring focus to understanding how important the U.S.-China piece of this global puzzle really is.  Later on, I’ll get into the fine brushwork of how well Philadelphia is positioned on the global stage to play a leading role in the U.S.-China clean energy story and, by extension, the bigger global climate change story.

Philadelphia was selected today to join an economic development network created by the Global Cities Initiative (GCI) , a five-year joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase.  Philadelphia’s application to, and participation in, the Global Cities Initiative is being co-led by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia.

GCI Logo & Philly Pic

Launched in 2012, the Global Cities Initiative helps business and civic leaders grow their metropolitan economies by strengthening international connections and competitiveness. GCI activities include producing data and research to guide decisions, fostering practice and policy innovations, and facilitating a peer learning network. This network, the Global Cities Initiative’s Exchange, assists metropolitan areas as they develop plans to achieve sustainable growth through increased exports and foreign direct investment.

Philadelphia is one of eight metro areas accepted to the GCI Exchange’s 2015 group, the final cohort of the full 28-metro-area network. The Brookings Institution selected metro areas for the Exchange through a competitive process based on their readiness and commitment to pursue the Exchange’s global competitiveness principles.

In addition to Philadelphia, the other 7 members of the new and final cohort include Baltimore; Fresno, Calif.; Houston; Kansas City, Mo.; Salt Lake City; Seattle; and St. Louis.

The 2015 cohort joins participating municipal regions selected during  the three previous years – 4 in 2012; 8 in 2013; and 8 in 2014.  Those previous participating municipal regions include:  Atlanta; Charleston, S.C.; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa;Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; Los Angeles; Louisville-Lexington, Ky.; Minneapolis-Saint Paul; Milwaukee;Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento, Calif.; San Antonio; San Diego; Syracuse, N.Y.; Tampa Bay, Fla.; Upstate S.C. representing the Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson CSA; and Wichita, Kansas.

For more information on the Global Cities Initiative please visit:

www.brookings.edu/about/projects/global-cities/exchange

www.brookings.edu/projects/global-cities.aspx

www.jpmorganchase.com/globalcities 

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