maria cantwellThe United States and China are likely to sign a new bilateral agreement to combat climate change during President Barack Obama’s visit to Beijing in November, Washington senator Maria Cantwell said on Friday.

Cantwell, who is in Beijing to discuss clean energy and intellectual property issues with Chinese officials, said a deal between the world’s two biggest CO2 polluters would also help build global confidence in the efforts to curb global warming.

“If you are producing 40 percent of emissions — which is what China and the United States are together — what a legacy, and what a great relationship you could create by saying that’s what these two great countries stepped up to do,” she told reporters at a briefing.

While not a surprise to my regular readers (see “Exclusive: Have China and the U.S. been holding secret talks aimed at a climate deal this fall?“), this Reuters story is another important sign that the Obama’s mid-November visit to China may be a critical milestone in achieving a national and global climate deal.  Indeed, if this agreement has real substance, as I expect it will, then it will boost the chances for Senate passage of the climate and clean energy bill.  And that means a Senate vote should not occur beforehand.

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If Obama is serious about solving the climate problem — and will put political muscle behind getting 60 votes to block the inevitable, immoral conservative filibuster — then he should use the momentum of any China agreement to get a Senate vote in early December before the big international climate negotiations:

A month later, leaders gather in the Danish capital of Copenhagen to thrash out the details of a new global climate change compact, but Cantwell said a wide-ranging bilateral agreement between China and the United States would be easier to achieve.

“I’d place higher odds on the ability of the United States and China to reach an agreement than I would on us passing legislation or on having Copenhagen agreed,” she told reporters in a briefing.

She also said there was a “50-50 chance” that the U.S. Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey bill, would be passed by the end of the year, but said the legislation needed to be “streamlined” and simplified.

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China is concerned that the bill, which has already been passed by the lower house of Congress, will give future U.S. administrations the authority to levy “carbon tariffs” on countries deemed not to have made equivalent efforts to reduce their greenhouse gases.

Cantwell said she was opposed to tariffs, but said however the final bill looked, the crucial part would be “putting a price on carbon” in a way that would create massive economic opportunities for both China and the United States.

She also said she thought China had underestimated the resolve of the United States to “make the transition” to a low-carbon economy.

A 50-50 chance is what I’ve been saying, but again, Obama — and only Obama — can increase those odds.  As for the resolve of this country to make the transition to a low-carbon economy, we will find out in the next few months just how resolved we are.

Ironically, this country’s only hope of stopping China from becoming the clean energy giant of the 21st century — leading the world in jobs and exports in low carbon technologies, many of which were invented in this country — is passing the climate and clean energy bill.

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