By Vinnie Aggarwal
The Sino-American relationship is increasingly emerging as one of the most central ones for the management of the global economy and international relations. Global warming is clearly a key area where collaboration is necessary to ensure any meaningful change. At the same time, the inter-related issue of the development of renewable energy resources has generated strong competitive elements between the United States, China, and other key countries. Commentators have recently begun to wonder if the United States is falling behind China on this front, tending to view renewable energy as a zero-sum game with catastrophic results for the country that loses.
With respect to global warming, there is little doubt that China must be involved in addressing this key issue. It took over the ignoble title of biggest greenhouse gas polluter from the United States in 2007, but cumulatively, its per capita emissions are one-fifth of that of the United States.1 This fact alone is a strong argument that both countries should assume responsibility to combat global warming. China obviously does not want to sacrifice its development for global warming concerns; yet at the same time, continued emissions growth at its current rate will be untenable for the world. With China and the United States emitting a combined total of 42 percent of the total recent greenhouse gas emissions, it is evident that without joint action, addressing global warming will be ineffectual.2
China's vigorous pursuit of renewable energy solutions poses a significant competitive risk for U.S. companies. China produces 40 percent of the world's photovoltaic sets and is installing wind turbines at a faster rate than any other country.3 It is also the largest producer of solar water heaters. China spent $12 billion in 20074 and reportedly plans to invest up to $660 billion in clean energy over the next 10 years.5 By contrast, the United States has only one company in the list of top-10 wind turbine makers and has been left behind in some areas.6 As part of the Recovery Act, the United States has allocated $80 billion for clean energy.7 On the education front, only 15 percent of undergraduate degrees in the United States are in the sciences, compared with 50 percent in China.8
While the United States undoubtedly needs to increase investment in education and clean technology, China's advances in clean energy are not necessarily detrimental. Although China has been creating strong competitors, it also offers an enormous market and potential for collaboration. Indeed, Duke Energy recently signed a pact with one of China's largest privately held diversified energy companies for joint technological development.9 A $15 million joint research project between the two countries has also been announced recently.10 A vibrant U.S green sector should be developed, but this does not mean it cannot work, learn, and profit from a Chinese one.
Perhaps more than any other issue, climate change is an obvious global problem. Pollutants from Chinese factories fall not only on its provinces, but also find their way to California.11 Although these factories are in China, they are often owned by American companies or produce for the American market.12 In short, with this obvious interdependence, global climate change is an issue that must be addressed by countries, companies, and the citizens across the world.
2Reuters, July 16, 2009.
3CNN.com, Technology, October 9, 2009.
5Huffington Post, July 27, 2009.
6Washington Post, July 16, 2009.
7Huffington Post, July 27, 2009.
8Huffington Post, July 27, 2009.
10Reuters, July 16, 2009.
11New York Times, June 11, 2009.
12Business Week, September 2, 2009.