With less than five months to go for the UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen, it would make sense for the US and China to address the issue in the context of the S&ED. In absolute terms, they are still the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, and until they take the initiative, it will be difficult to achieve any sort of progress at the global level.
US officials say that is exactly what could happen. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is said to be particularly interested in securing a bilateral agreement in this area. Some officials have even suggested it could be her primary focus at the dialogue.
It cannot be said for sure whether her Chinese counterparts will agree to the inclusion of this issue on the S&ED agenda, but given the current government focus on energy efficiency and renewables -- and the speed with which China's domestic renewable energy industry is growing -- it is far from being impossible.
A US-China deal focused on technology transfer, increased use of renewable energy, promotion of energy efficiency and other key policy priorities would certainly set the S&ED apart from earlier forums and mark the beginning of a new era of Sino-US cooperation. It would energize the global discussion on climate change, too, and would send a clear message to other countries about the urgency to address this issue.
The impact on business could also be significant. Energy remains an important factor for most companies. Energy costs have been rising steadily over the past several years (the recent drop in oil prices, notwithstanding), and the US Energy Bill, if the Senate passes it, will impose a number of measures which will give more incentives to business to reduce their energy use.
Similarly, many businesses understand that their clients want to feel good about their purchases. Environmentally and socially responsible products used to be made for a niche market. But those criteria are increasingly becoming mainstream requirement.
Undoubtedly, the S&ED is just the beginning of what will be a long-term process covering many issues. And its outcome will set the agenda for Sino-US political and economic ties for at least the next few years. For the first time, a strategic and economic dialogue could see concrete action on the environment and energy - and in today's climate, few things are of greater strategic importance than that.
The author is senior vice-president of Fleishman-Hillard, based in Beijing. He has been a political analyst in North America, Europe and India