Kerry,the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,employed the analogy in a speech Wednesday at the National Press Club on the potential pitfalls in negotiating an international treaty to reduce carbon emissions and arrest climate change. The United Nations Climate Change Conference will draft such a treaty in Copenhagen in December.
China will play an integral role in any international agreement to reduce carbon emissions. The country recently passed the United States to become the biggest carbon emitter in the world. Together,the two countries account for 40 percent of global carbon emissions.
Though the U.S. hopes to successfully encourage China to lower its carbon emissions,Kerry said the effort would come not at a price of less industry,but better industry.
“A century ago,the Chinese found that the telegram was impractical for their system of writing,” Kerry said. “So they leapfrogged to a new technology: the telephone.”
Kerry said that such a leap,this time from fossil fuels to the most modern clean energy,was in China's best interest and that the country was already hard at work expanding its renewable energy portfolio.
“Today,Chinese investment in renewable capacity is second in the world only to Germany,” Kerry said.
The speech was part of a larger push by President Barack Obama's administration and its congressional allies to rally support for domestic climate legislation. The House of Representatives passed an energy and climate bill in June,219-212,and the Senate will start work on its version of the legislation after the August recess.
Opponents of climate change legislation argue that a U.S. effort to cut carbon emissions will put American industry at a competitive disadvantage if China,India and other developing nations do not take similar steps. China and India have also argued that they deserve the opportunity to industrialize as quickly as possible using coal and petroleum,the same way Western countries did during their industrial rise.
Kerry said that there is room for compromise between the two contentions.
“We need to understand how China sees the issue,” Kerry said. “Where we see an economic powerhouse,Chinese see 500 million of their countrymen living on less than $2 a day.”
Kerry added that while the U.S. expects to see substantial carbon reductions required from China under the conditions of a Copenhagen treaty,the country will not be held to the strictest standards. Those will be reserved,as they were under the Kyoto Protocol,for the U.S. and the fully developed nations of Europe who completed their industrial rise without checks.
“We need to be flexible enough to accommodate individual countries,but firm enough to bring them all on board,” Kerry said.
If the public – and the Congress – can get past the simplistic arguments of opponents to climate change legislation,Kerry said,the U.S. can send a message to China that it is serious about the problem and take advantage of the groundwork it is already laying for a fruitful partnership on clean energy technology.
There have already been U.S.-China collaborations on energy efficiency research,and last week Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu negotiated an agreement to start a joint research program on clean energy.
“The pie is large enough for America and China's economies to grow green together,” Kerry said.