“China and US must lead on climate”

As US secretary of state Hillary Clinton arrives in China, an open letter from Greenpeace urges the two countries to cooperate on reviving the global economy without sacrificing human health or the environment.

19 February 2009
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
United States of America

H. E. Mr Yang Jiechi
Foreign Minister
People’s Republic of China

Dear Madam Secretary
Dear Minister Yang

Greenpeace welcomes the first visit of secretary of state Hillary Clinton to China.

Meetings this week between your governments will be closely watched not only by those in China and the United States but also by people around the world. They will be watching for signs of leadership, signs of partnership and signs of a common commitment to end both the most serious economic crisis the world has faced in decades and the most profound environmental crisis humanity has ever faced.

This year will be significant for many reasons. It will bring the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China; the 30th anniversary of Premier Deng Xiaoping’s visit to the United States; and the first year in office of an already historic US president.

Most importantly, it is the year in which the international community, meeting in Copenhagen in December, must agree on urgent and dramatic action to avert the looming climate disaster and define the path toward a more sustainable, more survivable future. Strong leadership from the US and China, acting together, is essential to reaching an agreement in Copenhagen. We are writing to respectfully urge you to demonstrate that leadership.

Already, we have seen positive signs. In recent weeks, the US has developed an economic stimulus package that includes substantial investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, demonstrating that economic recovery and environmental sustainability are mutually supportive goals. At the same time, China has begun work on a new energy law that places strong emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, demonstrating that greener development is not only possible but also desirable.

For decades now, Greenpeace has worked to call global attention to the reality and the risks of climate change. We have also been at the forefront of demands for a genuinely clean energy revolution, calling for changes to the way energy is currently generated and delivered and for a massive investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The current economic crisis provides an unprecedented opportunity to make these investments in a way that creates jobs, rebuilds critical infrastructure and lays the foundation for a new energy economy in both nations.

To that end, we urge China and the US to explore deeper collaboration between their energy efficiency and renewable energy industries, to create a new development model that meets energy demands, moves both nations away from coal, and generates millions of green jobs without sacrificing human health or the environment. Just as importantly, we urge you to work together to outline a financial mechanism that is equitable, workable and adequate to foster greener development not only in China but also throughout southern nations.

But as climate leaders, China and the US can and must do more. We ask that the leaders of both countries, president Barack Obama and president Hu Jintao, issue a joint statement at the G20 Summit in April in which they commit themselves to finding climate solutions, including securing the necessary funding, and call upon leaders around the world to join them in that effort. And we respectfully urge both leaders to personally attend the Copenhagen climate talks to ensure the success of those efforts.

The summer melting of the Arctic, more severe hurricanes, increasing drought, wildfires and heatwaves; these impacts are all signs of an increasingly chaotic climate system that will undermine the economic and development goals of all nations.

Time is running out. Dr James Hansen, a leading climatologist from NASA, recently stated that the world is now in “imminent peril”. The window for avoiding that peril is narrow, and closing rapidly, but it is not yet closed. With the right leadership, we can bring global greenhouse gas emissions under control, set them on a downward trajectory, and avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. As the largest local greenhouse emitters, the US and China have an historic opportunity to show that decisive leadership and ensure the strong climate protection needed to foster real and sustainable economic security. Commitments from both nations may differ but the urgency of the task facing us means every nation must play their part.

Secretary Clinton’s visit to Beijing falls 37 years to the day after former US president Richard Nixon’s historic visit to the same city marked the start of a new era of peace and cooperation for our countries. We trust that your meetings will be similarly remembered by future generations as a critical step that resulted in a legacy of climate protection, clean energy and stronger, sustainable economies.


Sze Pang Cheung
Director of Campaigns
Greenpeace China

Lisa Finaldi
Director of Campaigns
Greenpeace US

Homepage photo from US Department of State