The European Union has long considered China a partner in mitigating climate change.
After all, this is a global issue that requires all countries to curb their greenhouse gas emissions. As the world’s largest emitter, this holds particularly true for China. Cooperation has therefore been the defining prism of EU-China climate relations. During this time, there have been notable successes: Besides being a party to the Paris Climate Agreement, China has announced to no longer build and finance new coal-fired power plants abroad, it has issued an action plan to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
These new carbon milestones are leading EU-China climate relations into a new phase.
Climate cooperation alone may have run its course. Climate competition should increasingly define the EU’s policy towards China. Two factors impel Brussels to embark on such an approach.
First, China remains a climate risk
It is no longer about getting Beijing to sign up to climate targets. It’s about getting Beijing to increase its ambition and implement the necessary measures. Not only is China the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but at present it is also an impediment to reaching the Paris climate target of preferably limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It helped water down the Glasgow Climate Pact, by weakening language on phasing-out coal power. And according to Climate Action Tracker its current climate targets and policies are incompatible with the 1.5-degree target. The 1.5-degree-compatible scenarios foresee rapid CO2 reductions over the next five to ten years. However, China’s pledge to peak emissions before 2030 is rather vague. Beijing must be asked: How long before 2030 will China reach its carbon peak? China’s Action Plan for Reaching Carbon Dioxide Peak Before 2030 sets undecipherable targets by using the Corona year 2020 as a baseline and tying CO2 reduction targets to GDP development. The document also states that national energy security and economic development must come first and that it is necessary to “win time.”