California-China Climate Institute Releases 11-Paper Series to Help Spur Further U.S.-China Climate Action

March 07, 2023

BERKELEY, Calif. – The California-China Climate Institute today published new research authored by more than three dozen experts from across the U.S. and China identifying key opportunities for the world’s biggest emitters to accelerate climate action and deliver on the Joint Glasgow Declaration they agreed to at COP26. 

“This research provides a firm foundation for leaders in the U.S. and China to get back to work – together,” said former California Governor Jerry Brown, Chair of the California China Climate Institute. “Further climate action and collaboration can’t wait.” 

The joint research released today – titled: “Forging a Shared Path to a Net-Zero Future: U.S.-China Climate Action Opportunities Paper Series” – comes from a wide-array of experts from both the U.S. and China. It identifies opportunities for both nations to accelerate climate action, both individually and collaboratively, across ten key areas: power sector decarbonization, methane emissions, illegal deforestation, industrial decarbonization, green shipping, aviation emissions, food waste and fertilizer efficiency, building decarbonization, zero-emission vehicle deployment, and subnational cooperation. The 11-paper series also includes an executive summary.

These papers come in response to the historic U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s issued at the 2021 United Nations Climate Summit in Scotland (COP26). While the Joint Declaration did not include substantial new commitments, it nevertheless demonstrated a constructive willingness to accelerate and enhance action on climate change from both nations. 

In fact, at the time, both countries acknowledged “a significant gap” between current efforts to address the global climate crisis and those that need to be taken to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, stressing “the vital importance of closing that gap as soon as possible, particularly through stepped-up efforts.” Notably, the U.S. and China also committed to “seizing this critical moment to engage in expanded individual and combined efforts to accelerate the transition to a global net zero economy.”

The University of California-wide California-China Climate Institute was launched in 2019 and is housed jointly at UC Berkeley’s School of Law – through its Center for Law, Energy & the Environment – and the Rausser College of Natural Resources. The Institute works in partnership with the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua – one of China’s preeminent research institutions – as well with other University of California campuses, departments and leaders. Through joint research, training and dialogue, this Institute aims to inform policymakers, foster cooperation and partnership and drive climate solutions at all levels.

“Forging a Shared Path to a Net-Zero Future: U.S.-China Climate Action Opportunities Paper Series” can be read in full here. Summaries and links to each individual report’s English and Mandarin versions are below:

Executive Summary of Climate Opportunities in the U.S. and China
This executive summary highlights the crucial actions that China and the U.S. can take – both alone and in partnership – to address significant climate challenges across multiple sectors, including: decarbonizing the power sector, mitigating methane emissions, combating illegal deforestation, decarbonizing industry, advancing green shipping, and aviation, reducing food waste, decarbonizing buildings, implementing zero-emission vehicle deployment, and promoting subnational cooperation. The paper highlights findings across the complete series of papers. 

Decarbonizing the Power Sector in the U.S. and China
The U.S. and China both confront similar physical and policy hurdles in transforming their power sectors, despite having distinct economic and institutional conditions. Both nations have made ambitious commitments to decarbonize their power generation, with the U.S. aiming for a zero-carbon power sector by 2035, and China targeting 39% non-fossil-based power generation by 2025 outlined in its 14th Five-Year-Plan. Both nations share opportunities and challenges in decarbonizing their power sector, including ensuring reliability, controlling and retiring coal-fired generation, promoting regional integration, improving system flexibility, and enhancing end-use energy efficiency.

Reducing Methane Emissions in the U.S. and China
As two of the largest global economies and energy consumers, China and the U.S. are also the top and third largest methane emitters, respectively. Both nations have significant opportunities to reduce their methane emissions over the next decade, with some methods of reduction having low or no costs associated. In the U.S., it's estimated that a total reduction potential of 224 million metric tons of CO₂ equivalent (Mt CO₂e) can be achieved through abatement measures costing $100/t CO₂e or less by 2030. Meanwhile, in China, the potential for methane reduction is predicted to reach 469 Mt CO₂e in 2030, which is equivalent to a 35% decrease from 2015 levels.

Reducing Deforestation: Recommendations for the U.S. and China
The U.S. and China are primary players in global supply chains and key to combating deforestation. The U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration focuses on enforcing laws to ban illegal imports, and the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which the U.S. and China also committed to at COP26, aims to stop and reverse forest loss by 2030 while promoting sustainable development. Achieving these goals requires collaboration and support at the national and subnational levels, and action must be taken on a large scale across the entire supply chain to avoid leakage and ensure lasting reductions.

Decarbonizing Industry in the U.S. and China
The industrial sector, including emissions from electricity consumed by industries, is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately 60% of China's emissions and 30% of U.S. emissions. As such, it is crucial for the industrial sector to adopt zero-emission technologies and processes, while maintaining high-quality jobs and developing the necessary technologies to decarbonize the entire economy. Effective measures to decarbonize the industrial sector are essential if China and the U.S. hope to meet their goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the 2050-2060 timeframe.

Accelerating Zero-Emissions Shipping in the U.S. and China
China and the U.S. are two of the largest International Maritime Organization (IMO) nations involved in international shipping, whose bilateral trade contributes to 2.5% of global shipping carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to the greenhouse gas abatement solutions identified by the IMO, such as energy-saving technologies, the use of renewable energy and alternative fuels, and speed reduction, the following actions are recommended under the U.S.-China Green Shipping Corridors: building and deploying zero-emission vessels, implementing zero-life-cycle emission marine fuels, showcasing zero-emission ports, and creating zero-emission ocean shipping corridors.

Decarbonizing Aviation in the U.S. and China
As the two largest aviation markets, China and the U.S. hold a vital position in steering the sector towards a low-carbon future. Their combined efforts can address two significant obstacles in decarbonizing aviation: the lack of effective international policymaking and sluggish implementation of clean fuel utilization. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the aviation industry, the adoption of clean fuels, improvement in fuel efficiency, changes in demand through market-based measures and mode shifting, and mitigation of non-CO2 impacts must be prioritized.

Reducing Food Waste and Improving Fertilizer Efficiency in the U.S. and China
The food system has tremendous potential to contribute to climate change solutions while helping to meet global food demand, reducing dependence on inorganic fertilizers, improving soil and human health, and achieving sustainable development goals. Currently, the food system is a large source of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2015, 18 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent were emitted to the atmosphere from the food system, amounting to 34% of total global emissions. China was responsible for the largest proportion of food system emissions (13.5%) followed by Indonesia (8.8%) and the U.S. (8.2%). This paper explores opportunities to improve the outlook for a more climate-friendly global food system. 

Electrifying and Decarbonizing Buildings in the U.S. and China
Buildings pose a significant and growing challenge to achieving global climate goals. To overcome this, China and the U.S. can work together to facilitate learning and communication opportunities, provide financing for zero-carbon ready housing, carry out joint research, compare policy benchmarks, and share technology advancements to effectively decarbonize buildings.

Accelerating the ZEV Market in the U.S. and China
The global vehicle market in 2021 was heavily influenced by the U.S. and China, which together accounted for more than 50% of the market. Zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) sales saw significant growth, with 4% of total light-duty vehicle sales in the U.S. being ZEVs, doubling the previous year's market share and reaching a penetration rate of 12.4% in California. Meanwhile, China leads the world in ZEV adoption, particularly in the commercial sector, with its New Energy Vehicles accounting for 50% of global sales. To further advance ZEV adoption, key policy elements include mandatory or incentivized electrification by automakers, equity-focused incentives for buyers, investment in charging infrastructure, particularly for multi-family dwellings and public charging stations, increased outreach and education, and local leadership from cities and regions.

Subnational Climate Action in the U.S and China: Where We Are and Opportunities for Cooperation
Subnational collaboration offers unique opportunities for cooperation between China and the U.S., particularly in areas where local governments can have a greater impact and federal authority is limited. Both nations have influential states that inform their national policy decisions. Several key sectors offer opportunities for subnational collaboration, including: transitioning from fossil fuels and coal, decarbonizing energy, enhancing climate resilience and adaptation, designing carbon markets, and reducing methane emissions.