Carbon-neutrality: How can the EU and China co-operate to lead global climate change efforts?

In March 2020, European Commission President von der Leyen unveiled a ‘climate law’ to commit the 27-nation EU to reducing its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Six months later, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that China would become carbon neutral by 2060. Both announcements were seen as key in the global fight against climate change.

Climate change can only be tackled effectively with a global approach in a multilateral framework. The European Union is responsible for only 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. China is the largest emitter in the world and has an economy that is still heavily dependent on high carbon energy sources. The European Commission has remarked that setting an ambitious objective is important. However, what matters is detailing how targets will be achieved and delivering results.

There are immense opportunities linked to the new green technologies where China has taken a leading position. Today, Chinese firms produce more than 70% of the world’s solar modules, 69% of lithium-ion batteries and 45% of wind turbines. They also control much of the refining of minerals critical to clean energy, such as cobalt and lithium. Ambitious long-term goals should provide a further spur for the development of these technologies.

As two high-ambition regions sharing a determination to live up to the objectives of the Paris Agreement, the EU and China are natural coalition partners. The EU wants to work closely with China to deploy a ‘climate diplomacy’ to share efforts with the rest of the world, especially with the biggest emitters. Together, they could exert strong pressure on other emitters to increase their ambitions, notably in Asia, a continent accounting for more than half of global emissions, but also in the Americas. It could turn 2021 into a successful year for climate action, culminating in COP-26 in November in Glasgow.

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