China and EU sign landmark climate deal

A China-EU climate agreement signed late Monday could help pave the way to a GHG-reduction deal in Paris

The EU-China summit, which ended Monday, has deepened cooperation between the two sides on climate change issues, following a period during which Beijing appeared more occupied with diplomatic engagement with Washington than Brussels.

In a joint statement made late yesterday, China and the EU emphasised the importance of working towards a legally binding agreement at UN climate talks in Paris later this year and their intended contributions to enhance climate actions by 2030.
The EU has already made a commitment to reduce emissions from a 1990 baseline of at least 40% by 2030 and China is expected to submit its national climate plan (intended nationally determined contribution, or INDC) over the next few days.
Last year was dominated by agreements between China and the US, including the landmark joint statement in November in which President Obama announced economy-wide targets to reduce emissions by 26-28% below the 2005 level by 2025. In that same announcement, China stated its intention to achieve peak CO2 emissions by no later than 2030, and to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 20% by that time.
UN climate talks in Peru last December were characterised by further close cooperation between the US and China, often to the exclusion of the EU. Against this backdrop, the launch announced yesterday of an EU-China low-carbon cities partnership and expansion of the EU-China capacity building project for carbon markets is an overall step forward.
A new paper by Chatham House and E3G, published on the eve of the EU-China summit, reviews engagement between China and the EU on resources and low-carbon development, and argues for a rebooted relationship that pushes forward climate, environment and resource agendas while taking into account new political realities.
In 2007, a separate Chatham House paper, Changing Climates, called for deeper cooperation between China and the EU in a range of areas, including strategic and long-term clean energy research, joint setting of standards (such as in energy efficiency), green trade and investment liberalisation. The aim was to make the EU-China economic relationship the de facto engine of global clean energy transformation.
While progress has been made on clean energy market integration in China’s domestic renewables sector, many of the mooted areas of co-operation have yet to take root amid the practical politics of EU-Chinese relations, which have ebbed and flowed considerably since 2007.
The mutual benefits of trade in clean energy have been overshadowed by the EU’s complaints of cheap Chinese exports of solar panels and efficient light bulbs, and China’s position at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009 raised doubts in Europe about its commitment to climate action.
The economic crisis of 2008 changed global political dynamics and made coordination between EU member states more challenging, while China’s foreign policy focus on the US has at times seemed to relegate EU-China relations to a second-tier partnership.
However, the paper published last week argues that the interdependencies identified in Changing Climate are as important as ever, and that Europe and China need to forge a new understanding of their relationship if they are to preserve their core interests.
China’s strategic relationship with the EU is increasingly important as it pursues its economic transition, while its ability to operate in global markets depends partly on European views of its actions. Similarly, nor can the EU attain its goals through an exclusive partnership with the US, because the priorities of its member states are too divergent on energy security, climate change and resource scarcity.
The European Commission has said domestic EU policy should be “bigger on big things and smaller on small things” – a principle that should also be applied to external relations. China can help this adjustment by being clearer on the areas in which partnership with the EU can help accelerate its domestic economic and market reforms. The paper suggests areas for prioritisation, such as urbanisation, international resource governance and green growth.
The announcements made this week demonstrate real intent to deepen technical cooperation on low-carbon development. By working together towards a strong regime to control climate change, the EU and China bring renewed focus and hope to securing an effective agreement in Paris in December.