NoMoreDirtyEnergy

Op-Eds

EU and China can outflank Trump on climate change

The time is ripe for Brussels and Beijing to step up their relationship as US climate diplomacy dwindles, write Maeve McLynn and Li Shuo

This op-ed was first published on Climate Home 16 February 2017

Maeve McLynn is finance and subsidies policy coordinator at CAN Europe and Li Shuo is a senior global policy advisor (climate & ocean) for Greenpeace East Asia

Foreign affairs ministers of the world’s 20 largest economies will gather this week in Bonn to kick start this year’s G20 programme under the German presidency.

These include newly-appointed US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, making his debut appearance in the international arena. His presence is likely to cast a shadow on international diplomacy and cooperation on climate change, giving the EU and China an opportunity to step up their game together.

A united front on climate change could see Brussels and Beijing forging ahead and fill in part the political vacuum left by the Donald Trump administration. Top EU and Chinese diplomats should seize the Bonn meeting as the first of many moments to join forces.

The German presidency has provided fertile ground to catalyse the chemistry. Among its busy G20 agenda, Berlin has gone the extra mile to place climate change among its priorities.

The upcoming foreign affairs ministers’ meeting is due to highlight the cross-cutting nature of climate change and discuss the diplomatic and security threats it poses.

Meanwhile, other important issues, such as implementing the Paris Agreement, will be dealt with in earnest under parallel tracks.

Under the right conditions, the German plan could be an effective follow-up to last year’s G20 summit, which saw the US and China jointly ratify the Paris Agreement. This move stimulated ratification of the Agreement all over the world, including by the European Union, and brought the historical agreement into force at an unprecedented speed.

As the US appetite for climate action dwindles, this year’s G20 is unlikely to deliver the same kind of boost to international climate cooperation without reinvigorated leadership.

China is ready

Less than a month ago, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, President Xi Jinping of China voiced his unequivocal commitment to the Paris Agreement. Meanwhile, in a bold move just days before the US presidential inauguration, Xi’s climate ambassador Xie Zhenhua also pledged Chinese leadership and welcomed collaboration with other countries.

Beijing sees the diplomatic, economic, and environmental opportunities presented by climate action. US inaction will not deter China’s domestically driven climate resolve, but will make it more open to work with others and accelerate the pace of change.

...is the EU?

While China is sending its cli1mate messages to the world loud and clear, EU leaders Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk have remained notably silent on the subject. Little has been mentioned by Junker and Tusk about the EU’s dedication to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

Instead, they have left it to the usual climate and energy suspects – European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic and commissioner for climate action Miguel Arias Canete – to be vocal about the importance of the international climate regime.

The EU’s leaders approach of relegating climate change to a secondary agenda item needs to change. Not only will it put Brussels at risk of losing the opportunity to establish a new climate alliance to counter the US, it may also slow down broader international momentum for climate action.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the US-China climate cooperation, it is that tremendous political resources are required to advance climate cooperation. And that can only be mobilized from the highest level. Without commitments from the EU presidents, EU-China cooperation will at best be limited to technical cooperation.

The current cooperation between the two blocs on carbon markets and trading can produce incremental benefits, but that alone will fall miserably short of meeting the daunting challenge to fill the gap left by the US.

Instead, the two Parties should go further to spearhead joint action and collaboration for longer term decarbonisation of our societies. A stronger political alliance can promote and support the equitable transition of European and Chinese regions, bringing multiple societal benefits as they phase fossil fuels out of their economies. Major benefits could also be reaped from sharing lessons learned on monitoring and reporting their respective climate mitigation efforts.

Lastly, China and the EU can work together to integrate the goals of the Paris Agreement into their respective financial institutions, which will be key to bringing about a more efficient and effective energy transition.

The time is ripe for a closer EU-China partnership on climate action, but realising the untapped potential of a stronger alliance relies on more buy-in from the EU’s political heavyweights. Now that China has set out its intentions to lead on climate action, the EU needs to step up to the plate and fill the void left open by the US administration.

Contact Communications

ANIA

Ania Drążkiewicz
Communications Coordinator
Focus: EU climate & energy policies, UNFCCC
ania /at/ caneurope.org
Work: +32 2894 4675
Mobile: +32 494 525 738 

Nicolas

Nicolas Derobert
Communications Coordinator 
Focus: fossil fuel subsidies, coal phase out
nicolas /at/ caneurope.org 
Work: +32 2894 4673
Mobile: +32 483 621 888

Latest Publications

  • Letter to Deputy Ambassadors on a Governance framework compatible with the Paris Agreement

    This letter was sent ahead of the COREPER meeting on 24 November 2017 Dear Deputy Ambassador, This Friday, 24 November, you will be discussing the proposed Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union. With that in mind we are writing on behalf of our EU-wide network to highlight those aspects of the draft legislation that we consider critical to effective implementation by the EU of the Paris Agreement.
  • European and African NGO recommendations for an EU-Africa Summit that puts climate action at the forefront

    Ahead of the EU-Africa summit taking place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire on November 28-29, European and African NGOs working on climate change, energy and sustainable development jointly identify some important areas of cooperation to enhance European and African climate action.
  • Report: Juncker Plan backs billions in fossil fuels and carbon-heavy infrastructure

    The European Union is set to continue a funding tool that in last two years has lent billions of euros for fossil fuels projects, finds a new study from CEE Bankwatch Network, CAN Europe, Counter Balance and WWF European Policy Office.
  • Joint NGO statement on the ETS revision

    Being serious about the Paris Agreement:Stop the ETS funding coal, Start a meaningful carbon price This Agreement [...] aims to [...] making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. Paris Agreement, Article 2(1)c We, the undersigned, urgently appeal to Representatives of European Parliament, Council and the European Commission to ensure that European power and industry are put on the right track to rapidly and cost-effectively reduce their carbon emissions. The European Union was instrumental in designing the Paris Agreement. Now it must implement it. On 8th November, the aforementioned decision-makers will discuss final changes to the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) for the post-2020 period. It is vital that these changes enable the ETS to help deliver the Paris commitments. The recently published UNEP report underlines the urgency to act now in order to ensure that the 1.5°C target remains attainable [1]. One important discussion topic will be the design of the ETS funds. It is crucial that ETS funds stop subsidizing coal plants. We are glad to see that the European Parliament as well as seven Member States [2] have called for ending this misuse of funds. To reach the “well below two degrees” goal agreed at Paris, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) modelling shows that unabated coal in Europe must fall to zero by 2030: This means that the ETS must no longer fund this obsolete and polluting technology and needs to accelerate a socially just transition instead. The second crucial topic is how to ensure a meaningful carbon price that drives decarbonisation throughout the 2020s and beyond. This can only happen if the cap on the ETS emissions continues to tighten in line with the Paris climate goals, and is adjusted downwards to account for progress. Without this change, the EU carbon market will remain on an inadequate decarbonisation trajectory and risks another decade of irrelevance, leaving the EU lagging behind on green growth and innovation. Fundamentally, the EU ETS must ensure a meaningful carbon price in line with the Paris climate goals, while at the same time stop subsidizing high-carbon intensity technologies such as coal. We count on your support. Kind regards, Carbon Market WatchCEE Bankwatch NetworkCenter for Transport and EnergyChange PartnershipClimate Action Network (CAN) EuropeEfdeN RomaniaInternational Young NaturefriendsSandbagWWF EPOYoung European Federalists11.11.11 Notes: [1] Under current trends, it is expected that in 2030 global efforts to remain on a 1.5°C pathway are 16 to 19 GtCO2 off track. UNEP (2017). The Emissions Gap Report 2017. Available here. [2] Non-paper by Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK Joint NGO statement on the ETS revision
See All: Climate & Energy Targets