I was once concerned that Congressional fury over China’s undervalued currency and our huge bilateral trade deficit would combine with resentment over the costs of climate change legislation, and over China not doing enough to curb its emissions.
Climate and energy — far from becoming a new area of cooperation between the U.S. and China, as I have advocated — would instead become a new irritant in the relationship, and climate negotiations would devolve into even more bitter fingerpointing across the Pacific, delaying progress on the fight against global warming. Most recently, Paul Krugman explains why we don’t have any time to waste.
So far, at least, this train wreck has not come to pass. China has taken impressive steps on energy conservation, as this report from my colleagues at the Center for American Progress details. Beijing may even reject the Hummer deal on environmental grounds — how very sane.
The real test, though, is whether China will commit itself to hard targets under a new Copenhagen climate treaty. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Waxman-Markey legislation, which creates a cap and trade system for carbon, just passed the House. It would slap tariffs onto goods from countries that do not accept limits on global warming emissions, but only after a whole bunch of criteria are met and other remedies tried first. Given the politics, that showed real restraint. Overall the bill is far from ideal. It is, nevertheless, something.
President Obama has gone farther to head a trade/climate collision off at the pass by announcing Sunday that he didn’t support the trade sanctions in the cap and trade legislation. He gets a two-fer for this, in typical Obama Administration fashion. First, he is showing leadership on international trade. Protectionist measures are being enacted all over the world despite promises to the contrary, and in the lead up to the G-8 and G-20 meetings in Italy next week, this shows wise economic leadership on a tough issue that does threaten to exacerbate the current crisis, according to most experts.
His statements also serve the U.S. from a climate negotiation point of view. They signal to countries, particularly China, that the Administration will negotiate in good faith and hold off on trade punishments if they are forthcoming at Copenhagen — if. Let us hope they are.
– Nina Hachigian