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19th May 2022

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China & EU must cooperate on green goals, despite divides

  • The artificial snow/ski slope at this winter's Olympics in China, amidst verdant green scenery (Photo: Wikimedia)
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Global warming and extreme weather are common global challenges that concern all of us. It is heartening to see that the EU has taken the lead at the UN Climate change talks in Copenhagen, Paris and Glasgow, thereby given a new lease of life to multilateral efforts to fight climate change.

What's more, the EU is leading the way in pushing the climate goals even higher through its development policies, investment programmes and by providing financial incentives for the green transition.

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Importantly, the Covid-19 pandemic and its social-economic consequences have further boosted the bloc's green ambitions.

However, many of us are watching to see to whether these commitments will be impacted by Russia's war against Ukraine and the worsening geopolitical landscape.

In fact, this sombre moment requires that China and the EU put aside their differences and strengthen their cooperation on the green transition — even if doing so is difficult.

Beijing and Washington have set an example for such cooperation by signing three official climate-related communiques during president Barack Obama's second term — and the Biden administration has also been in discussion with China on issues related to the Paris Agreement.

This illustrates both sides willingness to work together on tackling climate change despite their many other areas of discord.

These US-China conversations should be a reference for policy-makers in Brussels, who may be looking for assurances of Beijing's determination in moving ahead to implement the Paris Agreement and proof of China's commitment to international climate politics.

Brussels and Beijing must work hand-in-hand to ensure that there is no backtracking in collective efforts to reduce carbon emissions and achieve carbon neutrality in the years ahead.

Importantly, both Beijing and Brussels are turning their international climate pledges into domestic policies.

Just as the EU is trying to do through its Green Deal, China's international pledges of reaching a carbon-emissions peak before 2030, plus achieving carbon-neutrality around 2060 (which were made at the UN General Assembly in September 2020), are being integrated into the country's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development.

By 2030, the share of non-fossil energy in primary energy use will account for around 25 percent in China while EU has set a binding target of 32 percent for renewable energy in the bloc's energy mix by 2030.

According to the document, the central government in China supports the provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions if they have the right conditions to meet these goals ahead of schedule.

EU cutting-edge, but China catching up fast

China has also announced a mega-plan for building 450 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind power-generation capacity in its western regions, while trying to bring the country's total wind and solar capacity to at least 1,200 GW and to cap its carbon emission to a peak by 2030.

Provincial governments in China are competing with each other in trying to take the lead in meeting these goals, scientists and researchers are actively exploring low-carbon technological breakthroughs, financial institutions are offering ample incentives and businesses are seeking new investment opportunities. Many are keen on cooperating with their European partners on an array of green development initiatives.

The EU hosts many renowned research-based universities, excellent scientists, and many cutting-edge companies, which give the bloc a strong competitive edge on achieving the green transition. The EU should therefore take a closer look at green investment opportunities in China.

In fact, China is catching up fast. For example, several Chinese automakers are planning to sell electric passenger vehicles in the EU. Hopefully, just as China kept its market open for Europe's auto industry, the EU will ensure a market-open policy and welcome those low-emission or green vehicles from China, which will help realise the EU's climate transition.

Such cooperation will be mutually-beneficial, helping to create jobs and expand green research and development.

Responding to demands from European and Chinese businesses, China and the EU should deepen their green partnership and set an example to other countries by promoting fair competition in opening each other's market, sharing new technologies, financing green investment and facilitating exchanges among businesses and scientists.

This will not be easy given the current geopolitical environment and fears in the US and the EU at China's rise. The EU, for example, may turn away from such cooperation as part of its drive for more strategic autonomy and amid calls for protection of its so-called core technologies.

Too many regulatory barriers will also be harmful.

For example, the carbon border tax, included in the EU's Green Deal, may cause unfair and increased tax burden for Chinese and other exporters. In addition, many have also questioned whether the complicated procedure of imposing the carbon border tax is in line with the rules set by the World Trade Organization.

It is a very challenging world, made even more complicated and dangerous by the Russia-Ukraine war. By working together on the green transition, China and Europe can play their part in building a better world and realising a global green dream.

This article first appeared in EUobserver's magazine, War, Peace and the Green Economy, which you can now read in full online.

Author bio

Fu Jing is executive vice-president of the Xiamen Torch Academy, in China's coastal city of Xiamen. He previously worked as a journalist in Brussels and authored Twin Engines of Global Development (2017) and Testing Time (2019) - both reviewing Sino-EU relations.

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War, Peace and the Green Economy

This magazine is about the world's collective and potentially transformational journey towards a green economy. It is also about taking the reader on what we hope is a fascinating "green voyage" across Europe, Africa and China.

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