Realism, not maximalism, should be the driving force behind China-EU climate cooperation
Updated 07:28, 27-Oct-2021
Adriel Kasonta


Editor's note: Adriel Kasonta is a London-based political risk consultant and lawyer. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Only a few days after a highly successful COP15 UN biodiversity forum in Kunming, southwest China, China's Special Envoy on climate Xie Zhenhua and Vice-President of the European Commission for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans are meeting this Wednesday in London to coordinate their policy stances before the COP26 climate summit in the UK that starts later this week.

Their pre-Glasgow tete-a-tete should be understood in a broader context of China-EU climate relations, and most importantly, the High-Level Environment and Climate Dialogue.

Notably, during their second online dialogue on September 27, Vice Premier Han Zheng and Timmermans issued a joint communique that reaffirmed their willingness to deepen green cooperation by joining hands in leading climate action and facilitating the "post-2020 global biodiversity framework" in an ambitious, though realistic manner.

The gentlemen agreed that the challenge posed by the biodiversity crises is "accelerated by climate change," and the latter is believed to "exacerbate" the former. In this sense, both require immediate and decisive action of China and the EU, set in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement.

"The EU has raised its economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction target from at least 40 percent to at least 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and will achieve climate neutrality by 2050," Timmermans proudly stated.

The EU official further said that Brussels established the "Fit for 55" package that comprises of various ideas aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by the end of the current decade.

Vice Premier Han, on his part, communicated that the fulfillment of China's goals of peaking carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and going carbon neutral before 2060 will rely on embracing the "1+N" policy framework, where "1" means the guiding opinion from the top leadership and "N" is the detailed scheme for implementation at the appropriate level of action.

The two high officials agreed "to promote a successful COP26 in Glasgow" and promised to "work together, and with other Parties, to achieve the complete implementation of the Paris Agreement."

Unfortunately, all of these can be jeopardized if the EU insists on putting pressure on Beijing "to peak [their emissions] earlier than 2030," following Timmermans words that echo Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission.

The leaders' summit of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), held in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province, October 12, 2021. /Xinhua

The leaders' summit of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), held in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province, October 12, 2021. /Xinhua

It is worth noting that despite their main argument that China is the world's largest carbon emitter, responsible for about 27 percent of global emissions, it is widely accepted that the responsibility to reduce global emissions rests on developed countries' shoulders as, to quote Professor Andy Purvis from the Natural History Museum in London, they "cashed in their natural capital for economic capital hundreds of years ago."

On China's part, President Xi Jinping recently announced that China would stop financing international coal-fired power projects and launch a $232.47 million fund to support biodiversity protection in developing countries. Furthermore, the government introduced an emission trading system in July to target pollution.

While it remains to be seen whether Beijing will ban coal-fired plants on its territory before 2025, it is worth noting that the country has been heavily investing in renewable and clean energy to compensate for the very state of affairs.

The reality is that in the light of the ongoing global energy crisis – that also hit the EU and beaome a divisive issue among its member states – China's top priorities are to ensure its energy security and economic growth.

As Frans Timmermans himself noted, "without China's participation at the last big global climate conference in Paris in 2015, the landmark agreement at the time would not have happened."

There should be no doubt that China always keeps its word, and this time will also make no exception to the rule.

When it comes to addressing the challenge posed by the climate crisis, Brussels would be well advised to refrain from a maximalist approach toward Beijing. The bloc should be honest and realistic in its dealings with China to make COP26 a success story. Otherwise, its actions could be perceived as self-serving and aimed at exploiting the global South countries, including China, India and Saudi Arabia. 

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