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17th Nov 2018

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EU needs China to fight pollution and climate change

  • “We have a huge interest in Europe in an energy transition in China" (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang's recent vow to combat pollution is among the most important developments in China for the EU, Ellis Mathews, head of the China division at the European External Action Service, has said.

Speaking at an event organised by the EU-Asia Centre in Brussels, Mathews was taking stock of EU-China relations, after the annual session of the National People's Congress in China, earlier this month.

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In a significant speech on 5 March at the session, China's PM Li called environmental pollution “a blight on people's quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts”.

“We must strictly enforce environmental laws and regulations; crack down on those guilty of creating illegal emissions and ensure they pay a heavy price for such offences,” said Li, who also promised to promote electric vehicles.

Mathews highlighted the promise by Li to replace coal-fired power plants in areas that are heavily polluted, with alternative energy sources.

“We have a huge interest in Europe in an energy transition in China, mainly away from coal,” said Mathews.

Coal is the fossil fuel emitting the most greenhouse gases. China is responsible for just under a quarter of the world's emissions.

“The things that we want to do on a global level, especially on climate change, aren't going to be achievable without a strong EU-China, and indeed EU-China-US partnership,” said Mathews.

China has promised that by 2030, its emissions will have peaked. “Perhaps even before 2030”, said Qian Bo, minister-counselor at the Chinese mission to the EU in Brussels.

According to the International Energy Agency, 2014 was the first year in forty years in which the world's emissions from the energy sector did not grow while the economy did. The IEA attributed part of the halt to less burning of Chinese coal.

“We are committed to this goal,” said Qian, although he added that the world's expectations of China cannot be too high.

“We are quite aware that we have a special responsibility. But at the same time, you want to caution everybody, that China is a developing country. We need ... space for China to develop,” noted Qian.

Jo Leinen, a German centre-left member of the European Parliament, noted that he hoped that the Chinese governments' words were followed by actions.

“I'm a bit worried that the film Under the Dome ... disappeared,” he said, referring to a Chinese documentary on pollution, which was allowed to be circulated online for less than a week until censors banned it.

Qian refrained from commenting on what happened to the documentary.

“This is a very difficult question for me to answer. We are very serious in addressing the environmental issues,” he said.

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