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Green bridge

Opportunity arising for greater China-EU climate cooperation to bring the global energy dilemma to an end


As countries around the world respond to the risk of climate change while also navigating external and internal uncertainty, different regions, economic conditions, and political systems have produced different approaches on climate action. In this fluctuating terrain, China and the European Union's cooperation on climate actions, while bound by a shared vision, will display the following three hallmarks for the foreseeable future.

First, trends in climate action, which include matters of trade and technology, are coming into interaction with issues in other fields of multilateral cooperation and competition.

Climate change overlaps with international competition in trade and technology. Armed conflicts, as in the case of Russia and Ukraine, can also impact climate action. Recently, the EU and the wider Europe are more cautious about relations with China and more keenly looking for other green partners worldwide.

Second, the EU is establishing a new paradigm of global carbon emissions reduction, and based on this, shaping its edge in climate cooperation. After China pledged to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, the EU has been closely watching China's emissions reduction efforts. The EU is also more cautious and conservative in trade and technological cooperation with China, and plans to set the standards and rules in the low-carbon field in advance, as represented by the draft of the carbon border adjustment mechanism. The draft will have a huge impact on global climate governance, spatially and temporally.

In the future international landscape of climate cooperation, some countries might formulate green emissions reduction policies, and develop technologies and standards in advance, use international trade policies to establish a framework for climate cooperation, formulate the rules of climate competition and cooperation, dominate the say over green and low-carbon development for a long time, and continue to consolidate their leading positions in green development.

Third, climate change remains the adhesive and booster of China-EU relations, of which their green partnership is an important part. China-EU cooperation will greatly reduce the risks and costs brought by uncertainty in the green transition.

For the EU, China is a like-minded partner, considering its ambitions in global environmental governance, determination to deliver on its commitment and ability of policy execution. The European Green Deal--a set of policy initiatives issued in 2019 by the European Commission with the overarching aim of making the EU carbon-neutral in 2050--echoes China's "1+N" policy system issued in 2021, showing that the two great minds are thinking alike on climate challenges and transition routes.

The China-EU green partnership is a window onto and highlight of bilateral relations, and climate cooperation enjoys broad prospects. On the one hand, China needs to prepare for the green "threshold" such as the carbon border adjustment mechanism draft, which will drive up the environmental and technological innovation costs for Chinese companies doing business in the EU and the wider world. China needs to recognize how much the EU values establishing and safeguarding international low-carbon rules and standards. It also needs to accelerate the low-carbon transition at home and gain a bigger say over access to green industries.

On the other hand, China and the EU are facing a common transition dilemma and should strengthen coordinated development in the energy field. Both face a similar challenge on their energy transition paths: how to guarantee energy supply in the short term and reduce emissions in the long term, and rationally use both coal-fired power and renewable energy. This requires technological breakthroughs, forward-looking planning and action, and strengthened cooperation with a more inclusive and open attitude.

China and the EU can explore more areas of cooperation. The REPower EU program is gaining momentum, and investment in renewable energy has been increasing. Meanwhile, China boasts a leading edge in the production and consumption of wind and photovoltaic power, electric vehicles and batteries, has a huge market, and the cost is expected to fall. All this can serve as the basis for deepening cooperation between the two parties.

They can diversify the development cooperation mechanism and expand the mutual trust foundation in standards formulation and R&D. In the future, the two sides can continue to expand the scope of cooperation based on the international platform of sustainable finance. They can also set up a special working mechanism to promote R&D cooperation in the energy sector. If necessary, the setting of such working mechanisms can be included in high-level dialogue, to increase the possibilities of cooperation, and create the foundation and opportunities for cross-border cooperation among Chinese and EU energy companies.

On the whole and from the long-term perspective, their respective green actions have established a broad platform for climate cooperation between China and the EU. They should better communicate their shared vision and consolidate the foundation of cooperation. While achieving their green goals respectively, their green partnership can make their economy more resilient, empower them to lead the world out of the energy dilemma, and promote global low-carbon transition and green recovery.

The author is a senior project adviser of Greenpeace. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn