Technical climate collaboration with China continues under Trump

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, May 22, 2017

President Trump has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, but next week, his U.S. EPA will sponsor a technical conference in China encouraging that country to cut greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.

The U.S.-China Green Ports and Vessels Initiative on Tuesday and Wednesday will hold a two-day meeting in the port city of Tianjin, where emissions inventory practices, fuel alternatives and other technical issues are on the agenda. Jane Nishida, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs, will provide a video message for the conference, which is co-sponsored by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.

EPA did not respond to calls for comment.

The meeting isn’t connected to Trump’s upcoming decision on whether to withdraw from the Paris Agreement or any other political agenda item. But it does show that while the U.S.-China relationship no longer centers on climate change, which was a highlight of the world’s most important bilateral relationship during the Obama presidency, some programs from that era still exist.

The United States and China spent the latter half of the Obama presidency setting up a network of technical collaborations on climate change, including in 2014 the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group (CCWG). That grew to encompass nine initiatives targeting sectors including heavy-duty vehicles and shipping emissions. This meeting takes place under the auspices of that initiative.

Paul Bodnar, former director of energy and climate change on the National Security Council, expressed no surprise that the Obama-era technical initiatives are still operating under Trump.

“The whole point of setting up these working groups, which preceded the U.S.-China political deal, was to build the sinews of U.S.-China cooperation at a technical level, and there’s a lot to do that both countries can benefit from,” he said. “They’ve continued on because they have little to do with the subsequent political work related to Paris.”

Obama made waves in 2014 when he released the U.S. Paris commitment jointly with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who for the first time pledged that China would stop growing its emissions. The bilateral agreement helped pave the way for the Paris Agreement the following year.

Now Trump is weighing withdrawing the United States from Paris, with a final decision expected soon. While programs like CCWG are not directly tied to the Paris decision, their future appears doubtful under the Trump presidency. Trump’s “skinny budget” for fiscal 2018 showed almost no allocations for climate diplomacy efforts, political or otherwise.