Members of the Yale delegation in Cancun met with Jonathan Black (pictured far right), staffer to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).

Members of the Yale delegation in Cancun met with Jonathan Black (pictured far right), staffer to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).

Yesterday, a few members of our Yale delegation here at COP-16 in Cancun met with Jonathan Black, who is a member of Senator Jeff Binagman (D-NM), who is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Our group was particularly interested in the current status of climate and energy legislation in the United States, considering multiple pieces of proposed legislation – including some that Senator Bingaman has had a direct hand in – have failed.  Given this context and the political and economic sensitivities regarding cap-and-trade mechanisms and carbon taxes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, Black provided us with a somber picture of what progress the U.S. could possibly make to address climate change.  Mostly, Jonathan pointed to the number of clean energy initiatives underway in the U.S. as a way to impact climate change as well as efforts to curb emissions from the power and transport sectors.

It was fascinating to hear Jonathan’s perspective that the Senate is placing a greater emphasis on energy initiatives – which are not as much political dynamite – as a sort of “back-door” way to simultaneously address climate change.  I brought up the point that his comments sounded eerily similar to my experiences working with the Chinese government and businesses almost five years ago.

When I had just started my work as a Research Analyst in the Climate Change and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute in 2006, China had just announced plans to reduce energy intensity 20 percent by 2010 from 2005 levels.  Climate change was a particularly sensitive issue for the Chinese government, who knew its rapidly growing economy was contributing to the rise of global greenhouse gas emissions but also didn’t have an obligation to reduce these emissions as a non-Annex I party under the Kyoto Protocol.  Therefore, we had to change our strategy to work with Chinese companies – telling them, 节能是减排 (energy reductions are emissions reductions).

It was this strategy – focusing primarily on energy savings and adapting our methods to the Chinese policy priorities on energy – that allowed us to get our foot in the door. And since then, I’ve written about how quickly the climate – so to speak – has changed in China.