On 28 January 2020, EURACTIV hosted the virtual conference “Carbon-neutrality: How can the EU and China co-operate to lead global climate change efforts?”. Distinguished representatives from government and industry from the EU and China met to discuss the importance of meaningful cooperation, open supply chains and the interplay between the green and digital transition in the pursuit of common climate ambitions.
The climate crisis is a shared threat which no single country can tackle alone. Alexandre Leitão, the Portuguese Special Envoy for Climate Affairs, emphasised that it will be impossible for Paris targets to be met without the combined support of the world’s largest countries, including Brazil, China, the US and India.
Today, we are already seeing cooperation dynamics changing in a positive direction. About 110 countries have committed to net zero carbon emissions, including the EU and China, sending a strong global statement that fighting climate change is a common goal. With the new US administration having brought the US back into the Paris Agreement and President Xi Jinping’s well-received recent statement committing China to reach its carbon peak by 2030 and net zero by 2060, this message is amplified and will be received by investors and businesses worldwide.
For the EU and China, cooperation is key and will serve the interests of both parties. China has a use market for environmental products, science and technology being developed in the EU, and, as the world’s largest carbon emitter, China’s decisions on climate action will have a significant impact on EU climate safety. Fei Shengchao, the Minister Counsellor for the Mission of China to the EU, noted that good communication channels already exist between the EU and China and that trust will be central going forwards. The combined actions of the two major blocs will have the potential to greatly advance global green cooperation.
Cooperation Over Competition
This cooperation applies to both public and private entities and will require climate ambitions to take priority over commercial market interests. When the US left the Paris Agreement in 2017, sending the message that it believed fighting climate change would reduce its competitiveness, other countries, including China, did not follow the same path. This demonstrated a willingness among some of the world’s largest economies to compromise and cooperate in order to drive change.
China, as a large producer of green technologies, producing three-quarters of the world’s solar panels, is fundamental to global supply chains. Instead of fostering a competitive dynamic, however, it is in the interests of common goals to ensure that these supply chains remain open and resilient. To this end, Byford Tsang, Senior Policy Advisor of the Climate Diplomacy team, E3G, recommended the establishment of a common set of standards for the development of green technologies and the agreement of new climate and trade initiatives, such as are already being discussed between the EU and US.
The panel agreed that funding will not be the key accelerator for further developments; instead, an incentive is needed to drive stakeholders towards green transformation. The carbon border tax on imported goods currently being considered by the EU could boost trade for low-emission companies. Elina Bardram, Acting Director of the International, Mainstreaming & Policy Coordination, DG CLIMA of the European Commission, emphasised that these taxes would not be enacted as a protectionist or discriminatory measure but an environmentalist one.
Other panellists raised concerns that border taxes may be detrimental to certain countries. Edmond Alphandéry, Chairman of the Task Force on Carbon Pricing in Europe and former Finance Minister of France, insisted on the importance of a level playing field for climate action and suggested that the most effective measure to reduce carbon emissions would be to drive up the price of carbon. This measure would need cooperation from the major blocs, including the EU, US and China.
The green transformation will go hand in hand with the digital transformation. Technological innovation has the potential to serve as a powerful driver of change. If sustainable solutions can be made more affordable and efficient through technology, the green transition could follow spontaneously.
The aviation industry, for example, is a major contributor to global carbon emissions. Having been brought to a relative standstill by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, now is an opportune moment for the industry to reflect on its equipment and processes and to pursue research and innovation into more efficient, sustainable options. The same principle applies in the city, where a push towards more sustainable transport options, facilitated by technological advancements such as the Internet of Things, is transforming mobility, making it simultaneously more digital and more green.
These innovations will also lead to new disputes over rare resources required to produce green technologies such as solar panels and batteries. For example, countries will scramble to control cobalt and lithium and other rare minerals. Those leading the change will need to ensure a greener framework is achieved in a peaceful, fair way.
The conference closed on a resounding positive note, with the diverse and distinguished speakers having demonstrated a common fundamental commitment to climate action on a fair and cooperative basis.