May 7, 2008

Because of their significant contribution to global demand for improved living standards, meaningful actions by the United States and China on transportation and energy will be important in any effort to reduce global consumption of traditional energy sources. Together the United States and China consume 40% of the world’s energy and are responsible for 50% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Given their economic size and impact on global markets, it is imperative that the U.S. and China join in a mutually beneficial process.

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The United States has a massive, complex transportation system that is heavily dependent on road vehicles and to a lesser (but still substantial) extend on air, marine, rail, and pipeline transportation. The United States’ most immediate and highest priority is on replacing a significant portion of conventional crude oil-based transportation fuels and improving vehicle efficiencies.

In contrast, China is still in the relatively early stages of developing its transportation infrastructure and systems. They are still in a position to choose between transportation modes and the lifestyle implications of different transportation systems and urban designs. Hence, China places its highest priority on creating a sustainable transportation system that will balance the need for transportation services with better urban designs that will lead to an improved quality of life for its citizens, through rational configuration of regional economic development and sustainable urban mobility.

To address these trends, the U.S.-China Ten Year Energy and Environment Cooperation Framework was jointly established by the United States and Chinese governments in December 2007. The Framework aims to focus on extensive cooperation over a ten-year period to address the challenges of environmental sustainability, climate change, and energy security. A Task Force on Clean and Efficient Transportation has been established to contribute to the Framework, and the Atlantic Council of the United States was asked to gather recommendations to contribute to its work. On May 7, 2008 the Atlantic Council held a meeting in Washington, D.C. to hear U.S. perspectives on opportunities and challenges facing the Task Force. The Atlantic Council held a similar meeting in Beijing on May 22, 2008 to elicit Chinese input. Participants in this dialogue represented a cross section of industry, research institutes, academia, and government. In these meetings there was strong support for developing even greater cooperation between the United States and China. Recommendations from these two meetings focused on increasing transportation efficiency, alternative fuels, altering traditional transportation modes, increasing capacity to manage existing systems, and accelerating the pace of change.

The Ten Year Framework will need to be supported across three Five Year Plans in China and by three U.S. administrations. In order for this effort to succeed, it will be necessary to capture the imagination of the leadership in both countries. Furthermore, cooperation on the issue of transportation and energy will solidify U.S.-China relations. This will have a positive effect on a multitude of broader issues by strengthening cooperation between the two countries on regulations, trade, and greater economic prosperity. Through this path can the two countries ensure continued progress on sustainable development coupled with environmental protection leading  to greater economic prosperity for both countries.