BEIJING The United States and China are likely to sign a new bilateral agreement to combat climate change during President Barack Obama's visit to Beijing in November, Washington senator Maria Cantwell said on Friday.
Cantwell, who is in Beijing to discuss clean energy and intellectual property issues with Chinese officials, said a deal between the world's two biggest CO2 polluters would also help build global confidence in the efforts to curb global warming.
"If you are producing 40 percent of emissions -- which is what China and the United States are together -- what a legacy, and what a great relationship you could create by saying that's what these two great countries stepped up to do," she told reporters at a briefing.
Obama is due to visit China in November, with climate change set to top the agenda along with the global economy and North Korea.
A month later, leaders gather in the Danish capital of Copenhagen to thrash out the details of a new global climate change compact, but Cantwell said a wide-ranging bilateral agreement between China and the United States would be easier to achieve.
"I'd place higher odds on the ability of the United States and China to reach an agreement than I would on us passing legislation or on having Copenhagen agreed," she told reporters in a briefing.
She also said there was a "50-50 chance" that the U.S. Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey bill, would be passed by the end of the year, but said the legislation needed to be "streamlined" and simplified.
China is concerned that the bill, which has already been passed by the lower house of Congress, will give future U.S. administrations the authority to levy "carbon tariffs" on countries deemed not to have made equivalent efforts to reduce their greenhouse gases.
Cantwell said she was opposed to tariffs, but said however the final bill looked, the crucial part would be "putting a price on carbon" in a way that would create massive economic opportunities for both China and the United States.
She also said she thought China had underestimated the resolve of the United States to "make the transition" to a low-carbon economy.
China and the United States are already cooperating in the development of new technologies like carbon capture and "smart" power grid systems, and a wider deal could include pledges to reduce tariffs on clean-energy related goods and services, as well as technology transfers.
Cantwell said she will meet with China's top climate change official, National Development and Reform Commission vice-chairman Xie Zhenhua, on Friday afternoon.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Editing by Ben Tan)