EU backs China carbon neutral pledge but ‘more climate work to be done’

25-Sep-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The European Union offered qualified approval to China’s renewed pledges to tackle climate change but insisted Beijing stop construction of coal-fired power stations at home and abroad.

“I welcome China’s ambition to curb emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet on Wednesday after Chinese President Xi Jinping made the commitments in a video address to the United Nations general Assembly.

“It’s an important step in our global fight against climate change under the Paris Agreement. We will work with China on this goal. But a lot of work remains to be done.”

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In his UN speech, Xi endorsed one of the EU’s three demands: the 2060 target of balancing carbon emissions with carbon absorption from the atmosphere 10 years after the EU.

The endorsement came just a week after von der Leyen joined Xi at a meeting with EU leaders, where she called on China the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter to commit to three specific goals on climate change.

Li Shuo, a specialist on Chinese climate policy from Greenpeace East Asia, said Xi’s pledge just minutes after US President Donald Trump’s address to the assembly was “clearly a bold and well calculated move”.

“It demonstrates Xi’s consistent interest in leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical purposes,” Li said.

“Carbon neutrality was very rarely discussed in China, [so] pleading to achieve it before 2060 is a bold move. It is also in line with the recent EU demand to China,” Li said.

Xi also agreed to cap carbon dioxide emissions “before 2030″, a step beyond China’s previous promise to do so in 2030 while still falling short of the EU’s appeal to Beijing to achieve the goal by 2025.

The biggest issue for the EU, however, was Xi’s decision not to directly mention the coal industry, which accounts for a large share of China’s carbon emissions.

Beijing has been building coal-fired plants as part of its massive Belt and Road Initiative but EU leaders asked Xi to stop all new coal plants in China and also overseas. Xi, however, made no such promise in his speech.

China’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by around 2 per cent in 2019, according to official economic data, and 65 per cent of the annual growth in energy consumption came from fossil fuels.

Byford Tsang, senior policy advisor at E3G, a climate change think tank, said the carbon neutral commitment was the result of strong diplomacy from the EU and more European pressure was to come.

“The EU will expect China to address the thorny issue of coal,” Tsang said.

He said he expected the EU to tackle the issue at a dialogue which EU sources expect to take place in November between European Commission executive vice-president Frans Timmermans and Chinese vice-Premier Han Zheng, who is also a member of the Politburo Standing Committee.


Category: China

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