German diplomats assess China’s climate leadership promise

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang meets Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels in June 2017, during the EU-China Business Summit. [European Commission]

The international community is asking itself whether China really has what it takes to lead global climate policy now the United States has yielded that mantle. German diplomats in Beijing have attempted to broach the issue, in a paper seen by EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel.

Diplomats from the German embassy in the Chinese capital expect the Paris climate agreement to be decisive for China. But Berlin’s representatives are not convinced by the East Asia superpower’s potential for climate change leadership.

Although adhering to the Paris Agreement offers the chance to reap major economic benefits, the German diplomats warned that: “For the time being, China is content with its unprecedented boost in reputation, which has come about thanks to China being “steadfast” in its commitments.”

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Many state-owned companies are under considerable pressure not to develop further or increase the scale of their climate ambitions, because they have “much to lose”, the diplomatic paper claims.

The diplomats added that there is nothing to currently suggest that China will act differently in international climate negotiations than before and Beijing will remain a “tough negotiating partner”.

The most important piece of advice to emerge from the German contingent was the insistence that Belin should “intensify climate protection cooperation with China, as per the Petersberg Dialogue in May, thus preparing the ground for China to pursue its own interests in the Paris deal (economic potential, globalisation, environmental dividends) without the US there”.

Berlin’s diplomats are also convinced that China should pressure the European Union to increase its own climate efforts in order to compensate for the failure of the United States.

Germany’s environment chief, Barbara Hendricks (SPD), is also convinced that China, the EU, Canada and other countries should now take the point on climate leadership.

In an interview with Der Tagesspiegel, she downplayed an alleged early breakdown in the EU-China axis at a recent summit, in which a declaration on the climate was prepared but not adopted.

Hendricks said that: “Both China and the EU have understood that active climate protection policies are modernising their economies, creating jobs and security, and safeguarding health and prosperity.” Both parties have ratified the Paris Agreement.

“They were and still are a part of the agreement but other reasons meant there was no clarification at the summit to cover climate protection. They will up their cooperation independently,” she added.

China’s five-year-plan to expand renewable energies and electro-mobility is ambitious. Coal consumption has fallen over the last three years and no other country has closed more coal-fired plants than China. Beijing is also top of the table in terms of investment in solar and wind power.

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