By Michael Wines
BEIJING — Senior American and Chinese officials urged their governments on Thursday to accelerate joint efforts to reduce pollution, even as their diplomats appeared at odds over crucial elements of a global strategy to fight climate change to be considered in Copenhagen in December.
The calls for cooperation, led by Vice Premier Li Keqiang, came at a clean energy forum attended by nearly 200 of both nations’ leading experts on climate change issues and technologies. The forum’s primary goal is to devise new ways in which Chinese and American researchers, corporations and others can work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But with the Copenhagen conference barely 45 days away, one subtext was to build momentum for closer collaboration between the world’s two biggest producers of greenhouse gases. Negotiations toward a new global climate change agreement have been hobbled by disagreements between China and the United States over whether curbing climate change should be principally the developed world’s duty and how much money and technology rich nations should give developing nations to help them cut greenhouse gases.
The prospect that Copenhagen may not produce a landmark accord increases the need for Beijing and Washington to move quickly on their own, officials and analysts here suggested.
“What China has going on now is real, it’s substantial,” Barbara Finamore, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s China Clean Energy Program, said in an interview on Thursday. The Copenhagen talks will produce some progress, she said, “but Copenhagen is a long-term process.”
While avoiding binding themselves to reduce carbon emissions by any set level, the Chinese have moved swiftly to adopt clean energy in recent years, and have emerged among the world’s leaders in wind, water, solar and nuclear power.
But experts say China needs Western technology to make further advances. The Chinese underscored their desire for more cooperation by sending Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to the forum’s opening session Wednesday evening for a private meeting with the conference’s leaders.
“He started the meeting by saying, ‘We want to have a real meeting, not a meeting in form. I want to hear your ideas,’” John L. Thornton, the chairman of the Brookings Institution, said.
Brookings, the private Washington research organization, is holding the clean-energy forum in conjunction with the China Institute of Strategy and Management, a leading government-sponsored research organization in Beijing.
At Thursday’s session, Mr. Li, the vice prime minister, called on the two governments to engage in “strategic and practical cooperation” on a range of environmental issues, from improving energy conservation and efficiency to developing clean-coal technology. One appropriate project, he said, would be a joint project to develop electric cars.
“This is in the interest of both China and the United States,” he said, “and it is the common wish of the business world of both countries.” He was echoed by David Sandalow, the assistant U.S. energy secretary for international affairs, who predicted that the world was on the cusp of a revolution in automobile technologies.
“How well we get there will depend on how well our two countries work together,” he said. In a speech to the conference, Mr. Sandalow said that both sides continued to be dogged by suspicions of the others’ motives. Some Chinese fear that American calls for pollution reduction are a cover for efforts to slow China’s rise as a global economic power.
American businesses sometimes fear that Chinese calls for cooperation are in fact a plot to pirate American technology and other intellectual property.
At the same time, however, Chinese and American experts alike agreed that willingness to collaborate on climate-change issues, from sharing research to launching joint business ventures, has grown dramatically in the last year. The vice chairman of China’s National Energy Administration, Wu Yin, said the relationship with Washington on clean energy issues “has been elevated to a new level.”
“We’re all very much encouraged by this,” he said.