Brokering U.S.-China 'Green' Cooperation
On U.S. president Barack Obama's recent trip to China, the two countries agreed to joint initiatives on green energy. The main broker, who hails from Taiwan, is a major proponent of international cooperation to meet the challenge of climate change.
Brokering U.S.-China 'Green' CooperationBy Yu-Jung Peng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 436 )
Many observers believe that the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will generate plenty of lofty rhetoric but few substantive achievements.
Perhaps more notable progress was made on the other side of the globe last month when United States president Barack Obama and Chinese president Hu Jintao moved the world's biggest developed and developing countries toward full cooperation on alternative energy.
On Nov. 17, the same day that Obama arrived in Beijing, around a dozen local-level government officials from places such as Shanghai, Hebei's Qinhuangdao and Shandong's Weihei were in Beijing to participate in a U.S.-China workshop on low-carbon cities. Class got underway at 9 a.m. at a location near Peking University.
"I think this is great. It's not easy to get so many local government officials to participate. Actually, they are key because they know the problems at the front line, and they also have the resources to make decisions," said Lawrence Bloom, the chairman of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Urban Development, who was invited to lead the day's class. "All the government officials attended the forum because of Mr. Kiang."
A key behind-the-scenes broker of U.S.-China green cooperation is a man described by former Control Yuan president Chen Li-an as a "key connector" of U.S.-China environmental circles. He is C.S. Kiang, the former dean of Peking University's College of Environmental Science and Engineering, who grew up in Taiwan.
Not many people in Taiwan are familiar with Kiang, but he has emerged in recent years as an important activist for global cooperation in facing climate change.
In March 2008, Kiang was invited to attend the opening of the conference "From Global Warning to Global Policy," co-sponsored by the World Political Forum and the Club of Rome. Kiang spoke after former leader of the Soviet Union and Nobel Peace laureate Mikhail Gorbachev, delivering a speech on climate change. The Club of Rome, a global think tank, gained prominence in 1972 for its report called "The Limits of Growth," in which it predicted that finite resources would make unlimited economic growth impossible. A year later, the first global oil crisis erupted.
Kiang was later invited to discuss the threat of global warming at a gathering of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders formed by former South Africa president Nelson Mandela and Nobel Peace Price winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who were also in attendance.
From Blacklist to Peking University
Kiang came to Taiwan with his family after the Chinese Civil War. He graduated with a degree in physics from National Taiwan University and then continued his studies in the United States. He earned a doctorate in physics at Georgia Tech and taught there before moving to the National Center for Atmospheric Research to head the Aerosol Program.
After the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, he worked with other overseas students to lobby for the Taiwan Relations Act, but because of his close contacts with China, he was blacklisted in Taiwan and not allowed to return. At the same time, he became the head of Georgia Tech's School of Geophysical Sciences and developed its Environmental Sciences and Engineering program, rated among the top five programs of its kind in the United States.
In 2002, he was invited to establish Peking University's new College of Environmental Science and Engineering and serve as its first dean. Since stepping down from the post in 2006, he has shuttled between the U.S. and China to push strategic cooperation in developing the new green economy.
Meeting the Threat with Clean Energy
October 23 stands as the beginning of a new era in U.S.-China environmental cooperation, the day a Strategic Forum for U.S.-China Clean Energy Cooperation was held in Beijing at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. Former U.S. vice president Al Gore, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang attended the meeting, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu addressed the gathering via video.
"We couldn't continue with empty talk, which is why we made sure this forum would deal with concrete issues," Kiang explains.
With the help of the U.S.-based SDT Foundation represented by Kiang, nongovernmental organizations from the U.S. and China used the occasion to sign cooperation agreements on low-carbon cities and smart electricity networks.
The China Institute of Strategy and Management, led by Zheng Bijian, the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, and Peking University's Institute of Clean Energy signed for the Chinese side and UC Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and Global Urban Development signed on behalf of the U.S. side.
The content of the initiatives signed by presidents Obama and Hu in November had already been agreed upon at the Clean Energy Cooperation Forum. And during Obama's visit to China, cooperation at the local level moved further forward when the mayors of 12 cities in the U.S. and China gathered in Beijing for the low-carbon cities workshop, which began with a workshop on carbon emissions reduction.
Kiang believes that with 75 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions coming from cities, the U.S.-China low-carbon cities platform can combine American technology and management with China's market to set verifiable low-carbon standards and introduce clean energy and sustainable engineering technologies to model cities.
He argues that such an initiative would not only become a global model but also help turn the twin threats of economic decline and climate change into opportunities.
"Whoever can grab this opportunity will be able to survive," Kiang says.
Meanwhile, China is aggressively cultivating a new generation of environmentally conscious leaders. Beginning next year, the Party School of the Communist Party's Central Committee will incorporate the concept of low-carbon cities in its training program, at the behest of the school's former executive vice-president Zheng Bijian, and in the future low-carbon achievements will figure as a key factor in determining bureaucrats' ascent up the career ladder.
Witnessing the initiative China has demonstrated in promoting a new "green" economy and shifting its focus toward knowledge-oriented economic development, Kiang cannot help but worry about Taiwan. Having visited Taiwan four times this year, Kiang is favorably impressed by the flexibility and resilience of Taiwan's small- and medium-sized enterprises and remains optimistic over the advantages held by Taiwan's thin film solar cell sector and other green technology industries.
He still questions, however, the government's commitment to the issue. On one of his visits, Kiang suggested to former premier Liu Chao-shiuan that a cross-Taiwan Strait low-carbon economic development platform be built to encourage U.S.-China-Taiwan cooperation on green energy, but little progress was made.
"Taiwan needs to promote its bright spots, but it doesn't seem like the government has come up with any clear policies or complementary measures to develop a green economy," an impatient Kiang asserts.
Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier