U.S. and China sign memorandum on climate change

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and China, the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, signed an agreement on Tuesday that promises more cooperation on climate change, energy and the environment without setting firm goals.

Smoke billows from the chimneys at a coking factory in Changzhi, Shanxi province November 13, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Chinese and U.S. officials signed the memorandum of understanding at the State Department following two days of high-level economic and strategic talks.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it highlighted the importance of climate change in U.S.-Chinese relations.

“It also provides our countries with direction as we work together to support international climate negotiations and accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy,” said Clinton at the signing ceremony.

She said the sides discussed in detail how to cut emissions ahead of a U.N. conference in Copenhagen in December that aims to set new global goals on controlling climate change.

The document, released by the State Department, did not set any firm targets but reiterated support for a 10-year cooperation deal signed last year by the Bush administration and created a new climate change policy “dialogue” which would meet regularly.

“It is not an agreement per se for each side to commit themselves to some particular target. It sets a structure for dialogue,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.

The memorandum listed 10 areas of cooperation, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, cleaner use of coal, smart grid technologies, electric cars, and research and development.

Some in the United States argue Washington should not agree to specific reductions in industrial emissions, which could boost energy prices, until China also agrees.

But others say China already has taken more concrete steps than the United States, which must show, in the run-up to the Copenhagen meeting, it is serious about reducing emissions.

Chinese state counselor Dai Bingguo said both countries faced severe challenges posed by climate change and Beijing was committed to cooperating with Washington.

“We all need to take a strategic and long-term view of China-U.S. dialogue and cooperation in these areas,” he said.

“Our two countries have an important contribution to make to the global efforts to tackle climate change, to ensure energy security and to protect the environment.”

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu praised China’s efforts but said both countries needed to do more.

“Today’s agreement ... sets the stage for what I hope will be many years of cooperation,” he said.

This month, during a visit to China by Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the two countries launched a $15 million joint project to create more energy-efficient buildings and cars and study the development of cleaner-burning coal.

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Editing by Mohammad Zargham