Despite Trump Bluster, US-China Climate Change Center Nails $5 Million Grant

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US President Donald Trump is fond of taking pokes at China, but the anti-China message doesn’t seem to have gotten through to the Department of Energy. Last week the agency took in a $5 million donation that will help ensure that the heart of a climate change research collaboration between the US and China keeps beating.

The funds will go to something called the Berkeley Tsinghua Joint Research Center on Energy and Climate Change, which is based at the University of California-Berkeley. If you’re wondering how the Energy Department got into the mix, that’s because UC-Berkeley is affiliated with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which will receive the funds through the Berkeley Lab Foundation.

The US-China Renewable Energy Connection

The Berkeley Tsinghua Center is a relatively new institute, having been  formed in 2015. The program links  the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute, Tsinghua University, and Berkeley Lab’s China Energy Group.

If you’re wondering what a US national laboratory is doing with a China Energy Group, leave your guesses in the comment thread. In the meantime, here’s the explainer from Berkeley Lab’s website:

Working collaboratively with groups in China and elsewhere to understand the dynamics of energy use, improve energy efficiency, and reduce emissions in China; strengthen Chinese capabilities in energy efficiency; and enhance relationships on energy efficiency among Chinese, U.S., and international institutions.

All of this sounds like a great opportunity for US companies in the energy efficiency field to grow their business overseas, leveraging expertise that has developed under Obama Administration initiatives like the Better Buildings program.

According to an Energy Department report the US energy efficiency sector has been adding new jobs by the barrel in recent years. Another 198,000 more are projected for 2017 among companies surveyed by the agency, so it looks like the sector is primed to lead on global growth.

$5 Million For Action On Climate Change

Since the Berkeley Tsinghua Center is housed in an academic institution, part of its mission is to develop the next generation of energy experts.

So, $2 million of the new funds will go to Berkeley Lab’s first ever endowed chair. It’s called the Nat Simons Chair in China Energy Policy and if you’re wondering who Nat Simons is that would probably be the Nathaniel Simons who is the son of little known but highly active philanthropists Jim and Marilyn Simons, the multi-billionaire couple who provided the $5 million donation.

The elder Simonses are mainly known for funding math and science, and Nat has been gaining a reputation for digging into climate change through his Sea Change foundation. Last year their daughter Elizabeth and her husband also partnered with the Bloomberg Philanthropies organization in a $48 million climate change and energy funding pot to help states cut global warming emissions, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Here’s Berkeley Lab Director Michael Witherell enthusing over the Berkeley gift:

“It’s with generous private funders like the Simons that research from the Berkeley-Tsinghua Center can continue. Their support also allows us to recognize talented researchers and analysts.”

The University of California is also providing another cool half a million through its Presidential Match for Endowed Program (don’t get too excited — the “Presidential” refers to the President of UC, not the President of the USA).

The other part of the funding is being dangled out as bait to attract matching funders, so all you Silicon Valley billionaires out there who are looking to save the planet (with one notable exception) have a handy opportunity to chip in for the cause.

Cities Lead The Charge On Climate Change

Aside from the Better Buildings initiative, the China Energy Group can also leverage the Obama Administration’s Clean Cities program. This initiative revolves around the idea that cities are important drivers of action on climate change — and they can make a difference even when state leadership is steaming down the climate change denial track.

The China Energy Group is taking the lessons learned here in the US, and tailoring them to accelerate China’s transition to a low carbon economy:

In recognition of the important impact of cities as the centers of population, industry, transport, and infrastructure on energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions and in light of China’s rapid urbanization, low carbon urban development has become an increasingly important policy area in China.

China began taking steps in that direction in 2010. In 2015, the year the Berkeley program began, China recognized the leadership role of urban centers by establishing a network of cities dedicated to achieving their emissions goals earlier than called for in the country’s national plan.

Here’s an outline of the resources that the Berkeley program is making available to help cities in China:

Building on studies of international and Chinese experiences and best practices, we have developed resources including guidebooks, adaptable guidelines, and simplified strategies to help inform and guide city governments on potential policy options and strategies for effective low carbon development.

Measuring and benchmarking are critical tools, and the Berkeley program enables Chinese cities to implement them without having to re-invent the wheel. Here’s a sampling:

More recently, the Benchmarking and Energy Saving Tool for Low Carbon Cities (BEST- Cities) tool was developed by the group to benchmark cities against 35 key performance indicators with international comparison values and to provide more than 70 policy or program recommendations that the cities can adopt.

It all adds up to a significant opportunity for US business to expand its global footprint, that is, of course, if President Trump decides that averting a “Sino-US trade war” is a worthwhile endeavor.

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Image: via Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3143 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey