What Are The Tipping Points For US-China Climate And Coal Policy?

What Are The Tipping Points For US-China Climate And Coal Policy?

The wind of change has suddenly picked up speed. 'Clean coal' technology, combined with carbon sequestration, is being recognised far more widely as a potential part-solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps more significantly for the politics of climate security, the buzz around new coal technologies is opening up new political space.

There is no escaping the fact that energy security considerations will ensure that coal will stay at the centre of the energy mix for many years. Nowhere is this more important than in China, where leaders need to keep the Chinese economy growing to maintain internal stability. (See article ‘China’s climate choices’ for an E3G perspective on this conundrum).

So without the ability to do something about Chinese coal use, there remained little prospect of convincing politicians in the USA and Australia that they should sign up for emission reduction targets under the Kyoto protocol or any future successor agreement.

That’s why the near-Zero Emissions Coal project (nZEC) led by the European Union plays such an important role – it offers a prospect of a breakthough in climate negotiations built around the shared development and implementation of new clean coal technology, breaking the impasse between major emitters.

Until now it looked as if the EU was making most of the running in this line of thinking, but encouraging news is coming from deep within the USA. New West “a network of online communities devoted to the culture, economy, politics, environment and overall atmosphere of the Rocky Mountain West” is running a three part series on clean coal technology. This follows New West contributing editor Todd Wilkinson’s recent visit to China with a delegation of officials from Wyoming and Montana to participate in a groundbreaking US-China Clean Coal Forum.

Part one of his series asked ‘Can Wyoming Diplomats Build A Bridge Of Clean Coal To China?’ Here, Wilkinson notes

It’s a remarkable thing, really, to be in China and hear a former senior official in the U.S. state department and one of the senior state Republican lawmakers in the Wyoming legislature talking openly about climate change being both a real and a serious threat to the environmental future of the planet.

Add in the governors and senators from both parties and it shows leaders, who refuse to let the U.S. remain stalled on action, are bypassing the Bush Administration’s inertia.

At the same time, it is equally poignant to note that their colleagues in China, which include the Beijing office of the conservation organization, The Natural Resources Defense Council, also show no reservation in accepting that the human causes of climate change need to be confronted.

The question is how?

Part two, published this last week, asks ‘What are the tipping points for US-China climate and coal policy?’ It seems like rapid progress is being made. Again, according to Wilkinson,

One earthshaking idea that grew out of the Chinese talks with the Jackson Hole delegation is creating twin, leading-edge IGCC [integrated gasification combined cycle] power plants—one located in the Powder River Basin and the other in Shanxi Province that would be fully operational and used as learning laboratories intended to produce cleaner air, increase power capacity with less coal, reduce CO2, and capture other pollutants such as mercury, sulfur, and other toxic byproducts of coal production.

An added benefit is that these prototypes could be licensed by private companies like GE, become the model for new plants, and transform the way that power is generation. That is the vision, at least, that Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is buying into as he uses his political clout to push for the state’s first IGCC facility.

Now that really would start to shift the political calculations in international climate negotiations – the question is, how quickly could these plants be built?

We’re looking forward to seeing what part three will bring us…


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