Jerry Brown’s New Climate Think Tank Hosts California-China Dialogue

October 22, 2019 Updated: October 22, 2019

Former California Governor Jerry Brown’s new climate focused think tank, the California-China Climate Institute (CCCI), hosted a dialogue with top climate officials from California and China last week.

The discussion at UC Berkeley included “discuss[ing] opportunities to expand collaboration on reducing air and carbon pollution, including short lived climate pollutants, and ways to drive further development of renewable energy and clean technologies,” according to a press release.

Brown launched the new partnership in September in an apparent move to counter the Trump Administration’s view of environmental regulations. The think tank is housed jointly at UC Berkeley’s School of Law and College of Natural Resources.

The CCCI plans to conduct research, train scientists, experts, and policymakers from both California and China, as well as hold “subnational climate dialogues to advance climate policy in the absence of national leadership” said the former Golden State Governor.

China, however, has issues of its own when it comes to environmental protection. The country’s industrial growth since the 1980s, and especially since its ascension to the WTO in 2001, has led to China becoming one of the most polluted nations in the world.

According to a New York Times report published in 2007, “Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party.”

According to the Chinese Ministry of Health, industrial pollution has made cancer the leading cause of death in China. Air pollution alone kills hundreds of thousands of citizens, and 500 million Chinese citizens are without clean drinking water. In 2015 alone, 1.6 million deaths were a result of air pollution.

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, air pollution was a prime concern for athletes. Before and during the Olympics, PRC authorities frantically looked for ways to clear Beijing’s skies for the Olympic events.

The affects of mainland China’s air pollution can be felt in the form of acid rain in Seoul and Tokyo. Even all the way across the Pacific in Los Angeles, much of the particulate pollution detected in Los Angeles originates from China, according to the Journal of Geophysical Research.

However, China claims to have stepped up efforts to curb its carbon footprint. Last year, leaders in the National People’s Congress said they would raise spending to curb pollution by 19 percent to 40.5 billion yuan ($6.4 billion) in an effort to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide levels by 3 percent. The government further added at the time that the most polluted cities had reduced their carbon output by 50 percent in the last five years.

However, questions have arisen regarding whether China is keeping its promises. While the United States has reduced its emissions by 12.1 percent from its 2005 peak, China’s carbon output rose by 4 percent in the first quarter of 2018 alone. China still produces 81 percent more carbon emissions than that of the United States.

The United States has also decreased its reliance on coal and is reducing greenhouse emissions by using cleaner forms of energy such as natural gas, as well as implementing higher fuel standards for automobiles. China’s reliance on coal, however, has increased, driving its emissions anywhere from 1 percent to as high as 5 percent higher in 2017 alone.

Brown, however seems confident that China is the right partner for California to work with to combat climate change.

“We’re totally committed to the kinds of open communication that are closing down virtually everywhere else. California, the University of California, China and Beijing together are not chopped liver. We’re somebody. And we’re going to make something happen,” Brown said of the new endeavor.

While the details of the California-China Climate Institute still remain scant, Brown has said that in addition to the project working with California’s Public Utilities Commission, Air Resources Board and the California Independent System Operator, it will also have direct ties to Chinese national and provincial governments.