Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. will be traveling to China early next month to meet with officials to discuss clean energy in the rapidly developing nation that has surpassed the United States as the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
"It really is taking our issues on energy and the environment to a global level through the Western Governors Association," Huntsman said in an interview Wednesday.
The governor said the topics will include discussions of development of clean technologies, renewable energy, carbon capture technology and climate science.
The delegation set to leave May 10, will likely consist of about five governors. They may meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao or Vice Premier Li Keqiang and several senior-level ministers, including the head of China's recently created environmental protection agency.
They will then go to the Xian province and meet with several provincial governors "who have real reason to be concerned about some of these issues," Huntsman said. "They're very reliant on old technologies, the old way of doing things, and have real air quality problems."
Several of the Chinese provincial governors are then expected to visit Utah in early June to attend the Western Governor's Association conference in Park City. The governor said he expects that gathering also to be attended by several Cabinet secretaries, industry leaders, and Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank and a friend of Huntsman's.
"It's gone well beyond what I thought would be possible," said Huntsman. "The Chinese ambassador told me this will likely be the most substantive exchange between the United States and China this year."
He hopes to sign an agreement to foster the future exchange of technology and ideas.
Yanqi Tong, a political science professor at the University of Utah who specializes in Chinese government, said China's energy consumption has increased, but remains mostly reliant on coal because it is cheaper than the alternatives. It is, however, catching up in its desire for cleaner alternatives.
"Any country when it first develops, in the initial stage they don't really care about the environment, because their focus is on developing, but once you've reached the peak ... people will start to think, 'OK, how do we make it sustainable?'" she said.
China has surpassed the United States as the top emitter of greenhouse gases, but on a per capita basis remains well behind the United States. Together, the two nations are responsible for about 35 percent of the global emissions.
The Chinese government has developed a climate change program aimed at reducing energy intensity by 20 percent, and doubling its use of renewable energy by 2020, expanding its use of nuclear power, and improving efficiency standards for buildings and appliances.
"Any country would like to invest in the cleaner energy sources but the problem is, again, how much can you invest in that?" said Tong. Traveling in China, she said, you can see wind and solar energy development. "These are future possibilities.... I think they are just catching up."
Huntsman said China has set aside roughly $300 billion for renewable energy and carbon capture technology. "The central government in Beijing has made this a national priority, and now they have no choice but to begin looking for partners," he said.