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China's Climate Change Playbook is Worth Reading

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In a few weeks, elite athletes from around the world will gather in Beijing. Press coverage of the Games is likely to highlight competition between America and China about which will win the most medals. Media coverage will also -- as it has already -- focus on air quality and environmental conditions in China.

As we compete on the playing fields, China and the U.S. should not lose sight of where our interests coincide -- climate change. And looking beyond the recently sooty skies of Beijing, China is clearly taking many positive steps to address its energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The Olympics offers an opportunity for the U.S. and China to better understand each other and move forward together on fighting climate change.

China and the U.S. are the world's two biggest producers of greenhouse gases. The U.S. can no longer use China as an excuse for inaction. Contrary to popular belief, China is already implementing a comprehensive energy policy that addresses climate change.

While China's climate-change challenge equals the U.S. in scale, China's emissions footprint is fundamentally different. In the U.S., one-third of energy use and CO2 emissions come from transportation. In China, transport accounts for just 10 percent of emissions, and industry is the biggest contributor by far. So, Chinese policy appropriately focuses most strongly on reducing emissions from industry. China is replacing old inefficient power plants with state-of-the-art new units. It closed down more than 1,000 inefficient cement plants and hundreds of power plants last year, as well as steel mills, smelters, and glass and paper manufacturers, resulting in more efficient, less polluting industries.

Over the last three years, the Chinese government has introduced a series of regulations on energy conservation, resource use, and recycling. The stance of China's leaders is that energy conservation and efficiency come first -- well before the search for new fossil fuel sources.

But are these policies translating into action? It looks like they are. The "Thousand Enterprises Program" -- which forces the country's biggest companies to make specific energy-reduction commitments -- is meeting its goals. By 2010, this program will reduce China's coal consumption by 100 million metric tons, approximately 5 percent of annual CO2 emissions for China or the U.S.

We will all see the results of strenuous short-term measures, such as closing power plants, staggering working hours and limiting vehicles, during the Olympics. But China also has long-term policies in place for reducing coal dependence, increasing the use of renewable energy and reducing pollution.

Visitors to Beijing this summer will experience a greatly improved public transportation network, including two new subway lines added to the three that already exist, light-rail to its airport, several new dedicated bus rapid-transit lanes, as well as special buses with easier navigation for Olympic visitors. The Olympics has spurred completion of these projects in Beijing, but a dozen other Chinese cities also have mass transit improvements underway.

Visitors will also be treated to venues demonstrating state-of-the-art green technology, including the elegant and energy-efficient airport and the Water Cube swimming facility, which uses the building itself to capture outdoor heat to warm the pool. As for ordinary new building construction, reported compliance with energy-efficiency building codes has jumped from 5 to 50 percent in the last several years -- a substantial improvement. China also plans to install 150 million compact fluorescent lights by 2010 -- substantially reducing the 14 percent of electricity China currently devotes to lighting.

China has already taken impressive strides toward meeting its ambitious climate policy goals. But these goals would be more attainable if the U.S. government would "toe the line" with a serious commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally. Perhaps some of these discussions can take place in the stands during the Olympics, while the athletes accomplish their own amazing feats out on the field.

Jonathan Lash is president of the World Resources Institute. Deborah Seligsohn, director of WRI's China Climate, Energy and Pollution Program in Beijing, contributed to this post.


Read more HuffPost coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

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