The world has made good progress on targets to reach net zero emissions, but now it must match those goals with policies, a senior EU official has said.
Europe and the United States have committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, and getting more countries on board at the November UN climate summit “would be a significant accomplishment,” said Jacob Werksman from the European Commission’s climate department.
“But those goals without the policies to achieve them aren’t worth a great deal in terms of what the atmosphere sees,” Werksman said at a EURACTIV event.
Despite new climate pledges by the US, EU and China, global emissions are still rising and the growing gap with the Paris climate goals needs to be filled quickly in order to prevent devastating global warming.
This year’s UN climate conference (COP26) will take place in Glasgow under UK chairmanship, with discussions expected to focus on enhancing international cooperation on carbon markets.
Policies will be needed to achieve countries’ targets to tackle climate change and that will be the real test of ambition, Werksman said, referring to an upcoming package of energy and climate laws that the European Commission will put forward in July.
Europe accounts for only around 10% of world emissions, so it needs to work with the US and the world’s largest emitter, China. Despite pledges to go carbon neutral by 2060, the Asian country is yet to peak its emissions.
However, relationships with China are strained by tensions around trade and security. Human rights are a particular concern when it comes to Xinjiang, a Chinese province where there are reports of detention camps holding Uighur Muslims. Last year, 39 countries called on China to respect the rights of the minority ethnic group.
“The EU, US and China are at odds with human rights aspects, like the treatment of the Uighurs, with trade issues and security aspects in the South China Sea. However, on climate they should cooperate,” said Henrike Hahn, a German lawmaker in the European Parliament who sits with the Greens/EFA political group.
Chinese academics agree that cooperation, not confrontation, is the way forward. “We need to look forward and we need to work together. It’s not always easy,” said Ye Qi, director of the Institute for Public Policy, at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
“In order to have cooperation, we really need to have a mutual understanding and mutual trust, which we do not really have right now,” Qi added.
Carbon border levy
The EU’s upcoming carbon border levy, expected to be presented in July, is causing tensions with Beijing, which expressed “grave concern” over the European Commission’s plan.
The threat of carbon border measures has put pressure on countries to increase their climate ambition, but implementing it might negatively impact cooperation, warned Wendel Trio, the director of Climate Action Network Europe.
The proposal will be tabled in July and aim to protect EU industries against the risk of “carbon leakage” whereby European industries relocate to places like China where pollution costs are lower.
While he admitted that carbon leakage needs to addressed, Qi warned against using the carbon border levy as “a weapon” to achieve a trade advantage.
“This is not going to work for achieving the climate goal. This is something which is very divisive and it just makes things very complicated and is very bad for developing mutual trust,” he said.
The European Commission has insisted that the border levy is not meant as a protectionist measure and will be compatible with World Trade Organisation rules. Werksman also confirmed that trading partners will have a “significant opportunity” for consultation after the proposal is launched.
EU Green Deal chief, Frans Timmermans also confirmed that developing countries would not be subject to the levy.
“Once we have decided on the mechanism, I’ll do even more outreach, all that is necessary – all our teams will do so to make clear what this would mean, well before Glasgow,” Timmermans told EURACTIV in an interview.