EU, China turn from trade to climate action to cement relations

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, during the press conference. [European Commission]

This article is part of our special report EU-China: Mending differences.

The EU and China confirmed today (2 June) their decision to step up their cooperation against climate change. But disagreements over trade soured the end of the summit, as Beijing refused to sign the joint declaration.

“Today, we are stepping up our cooperation on climate change with China. Which means that today, China and Europe have demonstrated solidarity with future generations and responsibility for the whole planet,” European Council President Donald Tusk said during a press conference limited to just two questions.

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang underlined the importance of having a “stable relationship” between the EU and China “to counter the uncertainties in this world”.

Both sides clashed over trade-related issues, especially the recognition of China’s ‘market economy’ status.

EU, China stumble into uncharted closer trade relationship

Just hours after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, the EU and China tried on Friday (2 June) to find common ground to ease trade tensions that have divided them in recent months.

The disagreement on this issue meant that the joint declaration previously drafted could not be formally adopted.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that they discussed some “controversial issues”, such as the Chinese overcapacity in steel production.

He added that Europe would also like to see greater access for its companies to the Chinese market. “It is not a tragedy, but it is something that can be improved.”

Proposal to block Chinese foreign investment faces uncertain future

Member states disagree on whether it is appropriate to create an EU mechanism to protect strategic sectors despite pressure exerted by the EU’s largest countries.

But Tusk expressed his satisfaction after concluding “the most fruitful and promising” bilateral summit held to date.

He said “the most important political outcome” is that both sides found what we have in common on several issues, although they need more time to work out on the details.

The renewed commitment expressed by Europe and China on the fight against climate change, two of the largest polluters, followed US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The US represents around 15% of global CO2 emissions, the second largest emitter after China.

In 2015, a total of 195 countries committed in Paris to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.

“We are convinced that yesterday’s decision by the United States to leave the Paris Agreement is a big mistake, bigger than not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, because Paris is fairer,” Tusk said.

Trump argued that the international accord was “very unfair” to the American economy and would destroy 2.7 million jobs by 2025.

The EU and China denied that the agreement would hamper the output of national economies.

Fighting climate change and promoting the low carbon energy transition “are mutually reinforcing objectives to achieve sustainable, secure and competitive economies”, the EU-China draft joint declaration said.

Angry Europe vows to defend climate pact after Trump pullout

European leaders reacted with anger and defiance after President Donald Trump yesterday (1 June) announced the United States, the world’s second biggest carbon emitter, was quitting the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Germany, France and Italy also rejected Trump’s claims, and ruled out the possibility of renegotiating the accord.

“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” the leaders of the three countries said in a joint statement published on yesterday.

‘It’s your responsibility’

“There is no need to renegotiate a treaty that is fit for purpose”, Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete added.

Cañete, visibly upset by Trump’s decision when speaking with reporters, stressed that the fight against climate change cannot depend on the result of national elections.

“It is an international agreement” and “once it is in place you have to fulfil your responsibility”, he insisted.

He commented that he was “pretty sure” that Trump didn’t read the 29-article agreement.

Contrary to the US president’s comments, he highlighted that the withdrawal would take at least four years to materialise.

According to article 28 of the treaty, parties can only withdraw from the agreement after three years from the date on which it entered into force, which was last November.

Paris climate accord to take effect on 4 November

A global agreement to combat climate change will take force after support from European nations sent the accord across an important threshold on Wednesday (5 October), prompting US President Barack Obama to hail it as a “historic day” for protecting the planet.

The withdrawal takes effect one year after the notification has been received.

Despite Trump’s decision, Cañete said that US businesses, communities and citizens would continue engaged fighting against climate change.

His words came after businessman and former major of New York Michael Bloomberg decided to move forward with Paris commitments despite the federal government’s decision.

“Americans are not walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement,” Bloomberg said on Thursday. “Just the opposite — we are forging ahead. Mayors, governors, and business leaders from both political parties are signing on to a statement of support that we will submit to the U.N. — and together, we will reach the emission reduction goals the United States made in Paris in 2015.”

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