The U.S. and China Working Toward Clean Energy

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State, Secretary of State
Online Chat Moderated by Professor Qi Ye, Hosted by China Daily
Beijing, China
February 22, 2009

PROFESSOR QI: First of all, our netizens are very much interested in learning how your family -- you know, you, your family, former President Clinton, Chelsea -- do the environment - the energy conservation.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, let me thank you for having me be able to speak to the netizens – I like that phrase -- and I am so pleased that you are focusing on such an important topic as energy efficiency and climate change.


SECRETARY CLINTON: In our own lives, we have tried to be much more conscious of what we should do. So, for example, we use compact fluorescent bulbs, which are less of a drain on the electricity grid. We have installed more high-energy resistant windows, more insulted windows. We have, obviously, insulated our utilities and our homes. We have also recycled, so that we are trying not to add to the landfill waste more than absolutely necessary.

And my husband, of course, with the Clinton Foundation, is running a climate change program with, I think, 40 cities around the world working on higher energy efficiency, and so much else. So, we have tried to do more, but we are constantly asking ourselves what more we can do.

PROFESSOR QI: Great, thank you. And during this trip you have emphasized this cooperative -- this positive cooperation. Would you mind to elaborate a little bit on that, you know, how that is going to work for this China-U.S. cooperation on environment, energy, and climate change?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as part of the agreement in principle that we announced yesterday between myself and Foreign Minister Yang, we will enter into strategic and economic dialogues co-chaired by myself and the Treasury Secretary.

And one of the most important tracks will be clean energy and climate change. We wish to create a series of actions and partnerships between our countries, between our businesses, our academic institutions, our citizens. And we hope to work together in the lead-up to Copenhagen at the end of this year, with a new climate treaty. We hope that there will be many opportunities, as I saw for myself yesterday, for partnerships between American companies and Chinese companies to produce cleaner energy. And our new Energy Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu, wants to work to help create more intellectual property that would be jointly designed and implemented by Chinese and American researchers.

So, we are just at the beginning of this cooperative relationship on clean energy and climate change. But I am very hopeful that it will continue to grow.

PROFESSOR QI: Great. Does this mean the 10-year framework, the cooperative effort developed during the strategic economic dialogue is going to continue, and is going to work through all these areas related to environment, climate change, and energy conservation?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, and we are going to build on the 10-year strategic dialogue about climate change and clean energy. We want to expand it even more and I was heartened by the commitments shown by the Chinese government to Copenhagen, that they want to participate and look for how the Chinese economy and the Chinese policies can contribute to lowering emissions.

Historically, as you know, the United States is the greatest emitter. But this year the Chinese surpassed us. And we can't look at per capita basis, we have to look at absolute emissions, and how we reverse that. So this is going to be an expanded aspect of our dialogue.

PROFESSOR QI: There is no question that China and the U.S. are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. And that is also a very important reason for the two to work together. And when the two governments working hard, trying to get kind of agreement, you know, one of the things is to find a common base.

In the 20 years, the 2 decades from 1980 to the year 2000, the energy efficiency here in China actually doubled. And, according to the current policies and programs, the energy intensity is going to further cut by 20 percent, which means the carbon emission is going to be 3 times -- based on that program -- it's going to be 3 times as much as the entire EU commitment under the Kyoto Protocol.

My question is, is this the kind of effort that can build the base for bilateral -- maybe a multi-lateral -- cooperation, looking into the future, say Copenhagen agreement?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that's what we're going to explore together. One of the challenges is the way that the emissions are calculated, because, as you point out, certainly there has been efficiency achievements here in China, as there has been in the United States. But we are still emitting too much.

And, as China continues to develop -- one of your ministers said to me yesterday that more and more Chinese people want more and more appliances, as you should. I mean, you should have a rising standard of living. It is not anything that the United States or any other country should, in any way, criticize. I mean, the people in China deserve to have a rising standard of living.

We just don't want you to make the same mistakes we made. So that, instead of just building more coal-fired power plants, which may be slightly more efficient but still large emitters, how do we work together so that you get your energy needs met without putting more absolute greenhouse gas emission totals into the air?

So, we are going to explore that. But I was very pleased at the openness that was exhibited yesterday. You know, nobody has all the answers. We have to work together in ways that can discover new answers that will be effective in dealing with this global threat.

PROFESSOR QI: Right. You made this same statement yesterday -- which I very much agree on -- when speaking to the students and scholars at Tsinghua University. You said, you know, "China and U.S. should work together to avoid the kind of mistakes that the U.S. made in the past."

I wonder if you could name some of those mistakes, and how we're going to work together to avoid that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I will give you one example. Back in the early 1970s, when the price of oil shot up, and the cost of gasoline shot up, individuals and governments under President Carter -- and President Ford before him -- tried to impose conservation measures, and tried to encourage the development of higher gas mileage cars, and more energy efficiency.

In the early 1980s, the price of gasoline went down. So everybody in America said, "Oh, well, we don't have to worry about that any more, and we don't have to have gas-efficient cars, we can continue to have very inefficient cars." And it was a mistake.

It set us back. Now, if you compare what our entire country did with what one state did -- California kept pushing energy conservation. California tried to push higher gas mileage cars. And, today, California still has a lower-per-capita use of electricity because of efficiency measures than the rest of the United States.

So, we made a mistake. People thought, "Oh, we don't have to worry about it any more." We know we have to worry and we are trying to be good partners, and coordinate with other countries, including making our own changes.

PROFESSOR QI: Right, right. Well, that's a great point. Moving into the next phase, Copenhagen. IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, proposed 25 to 40 percent of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions for the developed countries in order to avoid a dangerous deterioration of the climate. Do you think that's possible for the U.S. - that 25 to 40 percent cut by the year 2020?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that a great deal is possible. Very much of it is technically possible. Our challenge now is to make it politically and personally possible. And that is what President Obama is committed to doing, is, with our stimulus money, which was a very significant down payment on modernizing our electric grid, on incentivizing changes in building construction and design, and retrofitting federal buildings.

The science and technology is possible for us to be much more energy efficient. In fact, concentrating on energy efficiency more than renewable energies is a very obvious way of trying to move toward our targets. We just have to convince enough of our fellow citizens to agree with us.

You started by asking what my family does. Well, we have tried to change our mental attitude - turning off appliances, turning off lights. My late father grew up with the belief that you didn't waste things like electricity. So, we would turn off the furnace at night. We would turn off all the lights when we left a room.

And then, I confess, we got a little bit less aware. And I think most Americans did. So we weren't paying attention. We had so many utensils, appliances plugged into the walls and draining electricity all the time, and we would walk out of a room with all the lights on, and our big buildings would be lit all night long, and we wasted a lot of energy and we wasted a lot of money. We can't do that.

And so, being more efficient will take us a long way toward what we need to achieve. But it is also clear that it is not only the developed countries, it is economies like China and India that have to become full partners.

How you do it, given your challenges, is something we want to work on, because we will have different approaches. And Kyoto recognized that. Different approaches to common objectives is how we have to consider the Copenhagen treaty.

PROFESSOR QI: Great. And it is great to see such a great level of optimism. And thank you so much for being with us.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

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PRN: 2009/T1-26