USC Price helps Chinese officials develop climate action plans
Faculty at the USC Price School of Public Policy hosted a delegation from the Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG), a training center for mid- to high-level civil servants in China, to share research on how to develop technically feasible, politically viable and cost-effective climate strategies.
Coordinated by USC Price professors Dan Wei and Adam Rose, in conjunction with the Center for Climate Strategies, a nongovernmental organization based in Washington, D.C., the event held from May 29 to June 1 explained to Chinese delegates how climate change policies are developed and implemented in the United States. The visit also highlighted how the environmental policy curriculum is designed and taught at USC Price and at other U.S. universities.
“These are truly global issues that can’t be dealt with by a single country,” USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott said in his welcoming remarks. “So it’s vital that we have opportunities like this to work collaboratively and share information with each other, share research findings, deliberate together and think through solutions in a collaborative way. It’s very important for us to do this if we are going to meet these urgent and complex global challenges.”
Wei added: “As the two largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, we believe collaboration between the U.S. and China is essential in solving the world’s [greenhouse gas] emissions problem. This event provided an important opportunity to strengthen the ties of Price and USC with one of the important educational institutions in China. We expect that more collaborative initiatives will be developed.”
The four-day event featured several presentations by USC Price faculty. Wei and Rose discussed their joint research on macroeconomic impact analysis of greenhouse gas mitigation options and environmental policy instruments.
Other USC Price faculty who presented included: Genevieve Giuliano on environmental policy in the U.S. transport sector; Eric Heikkila on USC Price’s international collaborations; Shui Yan Tang on environmental policy and institutional design; Hilda Blanco on metropolitan sustainability challenges; and Tridib Banerjee on compact cities, density and livability.
In addition, Jeffrey Sellers, political science professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, presented on the history and development of environmental and energy policy in the United States; USC Dornsife’s Surya Prakash discussed the methanol economy; and Theodore Tsotsis, chemical engineering professor from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, talked about the application of microporous membranes in the energy field.
Wei, who was born in China, made her presentation in Chinese, while the rest were translated for the delegation. She spoke about the studies she and Professor Rose conducted for government agencies in six major states to evaluate the job impacts of their climate action plans.
Rose discussed possible policy approaches toward reducing carbon emissions. He outlined three options: setting regulations and standards, which he called rigid and inefficient; using emission taxes and subsidies; or setting up a program of tradable emission permits. Rose noted that tradable permits give states and countries a sense of ownership, and therefore responsibility, over the pollution they produce.
If a tradable permit system were adopted nationwide in the United States, Rose said, the federal government would set an overall cap on greenhouse gas emissions and grant permits to each major emitter that sum to this limit. Emitters that have high costs of compliance would save money through buying additional permits from those that have low mitigation costs and could thereby sell their permits at a profit. This policy approach, which has already been successful on a limited basis for electric power plant emissions in the Northeast under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, would reduce the problem of greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible overall cost.
“The key is to make it profitable not to pollute,” Rose said. “Make the polluter internalize costs imposed on others and provide an incentive to do so by granting the polluter a stake in the environment through the free allocation or auctioning of permits.”
Giuliano pointed out that transport accounts for about 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases. There are an estimated 600 million passenger cars in the world, with the United States (820) and Japan (595) having by far the most vehicles per 1,000 people. They are followed by Brazil (198), China (32) and Pakistan (11). Fossil fuels accounted for 96.5 percent of fuel sources for the U.S. transport sector in 2005.
Reducing energy demand in the transport sector is very challenging, Giuliano said. He stressed that fuel prices need to rise to promote demand for shifting more trips to public transport, alternative fuel vehicles or more fuel efficient vehicles.
“If we consider the set of options we have for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector, we have difficulties all along the way,” Giuliano said. “It’s hard to change behavior, it’s hard to shift to alternative modes and it’s hard to shift to alternative fuels. One of the important reasons those are all hard is that we are reticent to use pricing to influence demand.”
In addition to the presentations given by USC faculty, Rose and Wei also arranged for the Chinese delegates to visit and have discussions with representatives at the Port of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Southern California Association of Governments, South Coast Air Quality Management District, World Trade Center Association of Los Angeles-Long Beach and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.
“The team leader of this delegation, Dr. Fan Wen, told me that they believe this visit was a big success,” Wei said. “The participants are very grateful for the comprehensive presentation topics covered and the site visits we arranged for them. The participants learned a great deal regarding how the climate, environmental and energy policies are designed and implemented in the U.S., and the related environmental governance and institutional design issues at different jurisdictional levels.”
The CAG attendees plan to take the information back to China to help develop a low-carbon economic development curriculum to teach government officials. Much of the knowledge acquired on the visit will also be integrated into a textbook, which will be developed for the curriculum.