Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy is heading to China in hopes of strengthening air pollution and climate change goals overseas.
McCarthy, who told reporters the trip is about "engagement" more than securing "commitments," said the recently concluded United Nations climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland, and mounting public pressure in China to improve air quality will serve as the backdrop.
"[The Ministry of Environmental Protection] in China knows they are facing significant air quality challenges," she said Monday at a Washington event hosted by left-leaning think tank the Center for American Progress.
While there, McCarthy said she will meet with Chinese environmental regulators to chart a path forward for tackling a range of pollutants. Those include black carbon -- a heat-trapping emission that stems largely from diesel-powered vehicles in China -- as well as methane and carbon dioxide.
McCarthy said China understands the need to reduce air pollution, especially in the wake of public outcry in some of its smog-filled cities. The hazy skies above Beijing and other major urban centers have become a popular topic on China's micro-blogging site, Weibo.
"We do share the same climate, and we do share the same level of concern about a changing climate," she said.
McCarthy said a recent agreement between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to reduce consumption and production of a short-lived, but potent heat-trapping gas known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, underscored China's commitment to addressing air quality and climate change.
She said that the agreement on HFCs, which are used in refrigerants, is "a long way from being done, but it's a good first-step commitment."
McCarthy added that building on such agreements between the world's top two economies, energy consumers and carbon emitters would help bring other big polluters into the fold.
"We need to get all countries, including most notably India, also working work with China and the U.S.," she said.
Doing so would be key heading into the 2015 international climate talks in Paris.
Negotiators who left Warsaw at the end of last month were trying to put building blocks in place ahead of those talks, where officials are aiming to strike an international climate treaty to prevent global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Many scientists, however, say projected global greenhouse gas emissions make that scenario unlikely.
Getting China to commit to greenhouse gas emissions reductions is likely critical for gaining U.S. approval of an eventual international climate treaty — and for avoiding the 2 C increase.
Congress rejected the Kyoto Protocol largely because it exempted China and India from cutting emissions, arguing approving the accord put the U.S. at a disadvantage. Japan, Canada and Russia later pulled out of the pact for similar reasons.
Republicans on Capitol Hill — most of whom reject the scientific consensus that humans activity, primarily from burning fossil fuels, is driving global warming — have largely resisted international agreements to cut emissions on those grounds. They contend such deals would harm the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers.
McCarthy said that competitiveness concept has "always been a question," but added that climate change is "a dance, and the music is playing. Somebody has to take the first step."