What a humiliating failure the President’s Asian trip was. Not only did the President make the humiliating faux pas of bowing deeply to one tiny Asian leader, but no sooner had he returned than two more Asian leaders made counter-offers of deep cuts in carbon emissions at Copenhagen: India offered reductions of 20% and China offered 40%.
Seriously, a little diplomacy goes a long way when your nation has been noted for not signing onto Kyoto for the last 20 years. President Obama was only able to offer carbon reductions of 17% below 2005 by 2020, the level of the Waman-Markey House climate bill. That calculates out to the equivalent to 5% below 1990 (Kyoto’s baseline year).
Al Gore taught us that no administration can unilaterally agree to more carbon reductions than Congress will agree to—60% of the Senate is currently made up of Democrats, yet the Senate must ratify any international treaty by a 67% vote. Given that one or two of the democratic senators are almost as funded by oil and coal as many in the Republican party, reaching 67% agreement has proven nearly impossible.
That is why signing Copenhagen is a real stretch for the U.S. and why Kyoto was beyond us. However, there was one relatively quiet piece of concrete climate change news that came out of the the meeting between China and the United States: the two leaders signed a plan to speed up the global roll-out of electric vehicles and renewable energy.
Moving away from fossil-fueled cars not only cuts greenhouse gas emissions immediately, but also keeps on reducing them as the grid gets greener in the coming years. It also reduces our oil dependence, and cuts the influence in congress of the oil industry that will keep on preventing agreements for carbon reductions in the future.
To speed the transition President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China signed five agreements covering the technologies needed to reduce carbon emissions Energy.gov (pdf):
Ensuring one standard. They plan development of joint product and testing standards for electric vehicles. This will include common design standards for plugs to be used in electric vehicles, as well as common test protocols for batteries and other devices. Each country currently has extensive literature and data on its own standards. Making this information mutually available and working towards common standards can help facilitate rapid deployment of electric vehicles in both countries.
Joint demonstrations. The Initiative will link more than a dozen cities with electric vehicle demonstration programs in both countries. Paired cities will collect and share data on charging patterns, driving experiences, grid integration, consumer preferences and other topics. The demonstrations will help facilitate large-scale introduction of this technology.
Joint technical road-map. A U.S.-China task force will create a multi-year road-map to identify R&D needs as well as issues related to the manufacture, introduction and use of electric vehicles. The road-map will be made widely available to assist not just U.S. and Chinese developers, but also the global automotive industry. It will be updated regularly to reflect advances in technology and the evolution of the marketplace.
Public awareness and engagement. The United States and China will develop and disseminate materials to improve public understanding of electric vehicle technologies. Building on the success of the first-ever US-China Electric Vehicles Forum in September 2009, the United States and China will sponsor the event annually, alternating between the two countries. The Forum will bring together key stakeholders in both countries to share information on best practices and identify new areas for collaboration.