House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.XinhuaHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in China this week leading a congressional delegation to discuss, among other things, climate change and environmental protections. But despite the public displays of unity on climate, there remain some strong divisions between the two countries on what needs to happen in Copenhagen this year.

Traveling with Pelosi are James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Ed Markey (D- Mass.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jay Inslee, (D-Wash.), and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). The five representatives met yesterday with three top leaders of the Chinese government, including President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, and Wu Bangguo, the Chairman of the National People’s Congress. 
They also held a two-hour meeting with the Chinese National People’s Congress’ Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee.

The statement the U.S. delegation put out on the meeting didn’t offer much insight into the conversation. According to a remarkably bland quote from Pelosi, “both sides agreed to work together to confront the urgent challenge we face.” At a meeting of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum, Pelosi made similiarly optimistic, though vauge, remarks. “I think this climate crisis is game changing for the U.S.-China relationship,” she said. “It is an opportunity we cannot miss.”

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There was an equally uninformative statement from Premier Wen, via the Chinese news service Xinhua: “China will cement policy dialogue with the United States, take the joint tackling of climate change as an important aspect of cooperation and push for positive results in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.”

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Markey, chair of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, seems to still be flying high on the passage of his climate and energy bill out of the Energy and Commerce Committee last week. He’s surely ecstatic to have some real news to take with him to China this week, and seemed to have a more enthusiastic take on their meetings.

“Our meetings this week reinforced the urgent need for the United States and China to take concrete actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help preserve our planet,” said Markey in a statement after the meeting.

But the enthusiasm in public displays doesn’t really reflect the continued difficulty in getting these two nations, the largest consumers of energy in the world, on the same page when it comes to climate policy. While the climate bill that Markey co-sponsored with Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) would be a first step for the United States in curbing emissions, it is not as strong as Chinese leaders have indicated they would like to see.

Chinese leaders have indicated that they think developed nations should reduce their emissions 40 percent below 1995 levels by 2020. The bill the Energy and Commerce Committee approved only seeks a 2020 target of 17 percent below 2005 levels.

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The Center for American Progress issued a new report on Wednesday detailing this weakness in the Waxman-Markey bill when it comes to bringing China along in climate treaty negotiations (which Grist reprinted here). From their report:

More troubling, there are already clear signs that ACES’s targets are far less than we need to garner China’s full engagement in an international agreement on capping emissions. China, now a larger emitter than the United States, will not sign on to any sort of hard limits to its emissions without a clear commitment by the far-richer United States to do so. To create some negotiating room for itself, Beijing has publicly called for much more aggressive cuts from the developed world—a 40-percent reduction by 2020 from 1990 levels. The U.S. State Department negotiating team, under the leadership of Center for American Progress’ former Senior Fellow Todd Stern, has already indicated that this is an untenable goal for the United States, regardless of what some may consider the possibility of such cuts. This is disappointing especially now that China is taking these issues more seriously than ever before and is showing signs that they may be prepared to commit to some sort of mandate under a new treaty. The coming summer of climate negotiations is already looking long and hot.

But as the authors point out, despite differing expectations on midterm targets, other provisions in the House bill like the renewable electricity and efficiency standards can allow the United States to reach those goals. The challenge is convincing China that despite the apparent gap between their expectations and the Waxman-Markey bill, they can find common ground and reach an agreement in Copenhagen.

This reality makes one wonder what’s really going down in Pelosi’s meetings in China this week. All the nicey-nice talk doesn’t do justice to the tough conversations leaders are – or at least, should – be having.