The Obama-Hu energy agreements in November 2009 and the Copenhagen climate talks reinvigorated discussions on the need for the United States and China to collaborate on energy and climate issues, but translating that enthusiasm into concrete projects can be elusive. On March 11th, 2010, CEF hosted three speakers—George Hamilton of the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), Mel Rice of ISC, and Zou Ji of the World Resources Institute—who presented on the current political climate around energy and climate issues in China and introduced their joint work to help promote public-private energy efficiency initiatives and better measurement of greenhouse gas emissions in two of China's most industrialized provinces, Guangdong and Jiangsu.
Teaching Climate Leadership
The Institute for Sustainable Communities and the World Resources Institute—with funding from USAID and the private sector—have been working in Guangdong and Jiangsu to help build capacity of local leaders, build non-traditional networks, and encourage integrated solutions, civic engagement, and resource efficiency. To start off the discussion, Mr. Hamilton talked about some of the obstacles in implementing their energy efficiency goals. He stated that lack of policies weren't necessarily the main obstacle towards progress in energy efficiency and carbon reductions. Rather, he stated that a lack of regulatory implementation and building capacity was the largest barrier towards concrete progress. To overcome these barriers, ISC based its Guangdong and Jiangsu program on its U.S. climate leadership academies which connect local practitioners to help accelerate energy efficiency actions and climate solutions by allowing sharing of best practices.
But instead of directly copying its U.S. climate leadership academies, ISC established environmental health and safety academies with strong energy efficiency and GHG accounting components. These were established to address the biggest issue in lack of implementation and building capacity which is that there simply are not enough qualified people. These EHS academies strive to train local managers and practitioners who understand the technical and managerial systems behind energy efficiency and GHG accounting issues through which they can advocate for change within their home institutions. Mr. Hamilton concluded that by saying that these EHS academies had hit a chord with the Ministry of Social Security and Labor and a national curriculum may be passed this year.
Empowering Low Carbon Technology
Mel Rice, also of ISC, spoke next and elucidated some of Mr. Hamilton's main points and reminded the audience that the ultimate goal of the program was to produce meaningful GHG reductions in China. Along with the EHS academies, Mr. Rice talked about the program's also work with the power sector and municipalities. To promote GHG reductions in the power sector, ISC brings together specialists from both the US and China to make energy efficiency models for the Chinese power sectors which focus on bringing financial resources to encourage access to new low emission technology. Mel Rice concluded by emphasizing that cities are a huge area that need more focus and like the EHS academies, ISC's financial best practices need to be shared amongst municipalities.
Scaling Up Nationally
To wrap up the talk, Zou Ji linked the issues in the ISC-WRI project to the larger political context and also explained WRI's role in the project. As a policy focused institution, WRI incorporates its extensive expertise in high level policy issues with ISC's skill in dealing with local issues which makes for a mutually beneficial and complementary partnership. In terms of the larger national and international picture, Zou stated that the project makes significant contributions to a low-carbon development path for China and that with a national People's Congress (NPCC) meeting coming up in Beijing, its work is particularly timely in terms of affecting domestic policies. Amongst the Chinese people, a low-carbon economy is a top concern and this bodes well for low climate policies and will hopefully make NPCC representatives pay more attention to projects like ISC's. As the 12th five year plan approaches, the ultimate hope is that ISC's and WRI's programs will be duplicated at scale nationally.