The San Francisco Chronicle: Climate Change Game-Changer for China Relations


By Nancy Pelosi

Climate change is an economic issue, a national security issue, an environmental health issue and a moral issue. It is also an opportunity for the United States and China to make progress together on behalf of both of our citizens and, indeed, the entire world.

I recently had the opportunity to lead a bipartisan delegation to China with members from the House Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence.

Our delegation went to learn more about the environmental challenges facing China and the policies being pursued by the Chinese government to protect the environment. We went to engage with Chinese officials at all levels, to engage with American and Chinese business communities, and with Chinese citizens, students and nonprofit organizations.

The timing of our visit to China was planned in anticipation of the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. As it happened, the night before we left for China, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed landmark legislation to establish mandatory reductions in global warming pollution and national standards for renewable electricity. We intend to turn this historic and transformational legislation, co-authored by Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, into law.

Congress is building upon progress we have already made to reduce our global warming footprint. We passed new energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, and enacted the first increase in vehicle fuel efficiency in more than 30 years. We directed an unprecedented investment in clean energy projects as part of our recovery package. Last month, President Obama announced an aggressive timetable for achieving the historic fuel efficiency increases that Congress passed in 2007. And for the first time, we will regulate global warming pollution from vehicles. The United States has taken significant steps, but we must do more. Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, and the ambitious Waxman-Markey climate legislation, we are striving to meet that challenge.

But as we partner on issues such as climate change, we must continue to lead the world in demanding fundamental freedoms for all people. As President Obama said in his speech in Cairo last week, ‘All people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.’

The human rights situation in China and Tibet has been a priority for me throughout my career, and I brought it up in each of our high-level meetings and in my speeches. I am proud that as we recognized the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre last week, that the House passed legislation calling for ‘full and independent investigations’ into those tragic events. Congress will continue to speak for freedom of speech and assembly in China and Tibet.

As a member of Congress in 1991, I visited China and unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square dedicated to those who died for democracy there. That was one of the proudest moments of my career. It was my opportunity to express the concern that I had for the human rights situation in China and Tibet. On last month’s trip, as speaker of the House, I had the opportunity to speak directly to the president of China and other top leaders on the issues of freedom and human rights.

I believe that two priorities of my service in Congress – protecting the environment and promoting human rights – are coming together in addressing the challenge of the global climate crisis.

The crisis can be a game-changer in the U.S.-China relationship; it is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. Our governments will have to make difficult decisions that must be based in science. The challenge of the global climate crisis must be met with openness, transparency, respect for the rule of law, and the government must be accountable to the people. The principle of environmental justice must be upheld, especially when poor people are more adversely affected by drastic environmental changes than others.

The United States and China must work together to advance our mutual interests and promote international security and stability. Energy and the environment is an excellent place for that dialogue; we have a great deal of work to do.

Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, is the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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