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China and EU to tackle climate change together amid U.S. retreat

By Kou Jie (People's Daily Online)    17:05, June 01, 2017

China and the EU will join together in a united front to tackle climate change in response to Donald Trump’s expected decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.

According to a joint statement expected to be released at a summit of EU leaders with China’s Premier Li Keqiang on June 2, the two sides will lead the energy transition toward a low-carbon economy, a move interpreted by experts as a countermeasure against America’s possible exit from the accord, reported Financial Times.

The Sino-EU collaboration on climate change comes on the heel of the split G7 Summit in Italy, which ended with intense finger pointing between the U.S. and its traditional allies. The U.S., once a major player in combating climate change under the Obama Administration, has irritated the international community for its expected decision to step away from an agreement that has been adopted by almost every country in the world.

UN Secretary General António Guterres on Tuesday warned that if the U.S. exits the climate agreement there could be negative economic, security, and societal consequences for the country, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe can no longer “fully count on others” and needed to “fight for our own future ourselves.”

Some experts believe that America’s possible withdrawal from the accord will lead to a new climate change alliance between China and the EU, and accelerate the global transition to clean energy, while China gains the leading voice on climate change issues.

“China and the EU will strengthen climate ties and take a leading role in addressing climate change issues amid the U.S. retreat. This will be a new highlight and consensus for Sino-EU cooperation and the relationship,” Zhang Bei, an associate research fellow on European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told People’s Daily Online.

Split opinions

Amid growing fear that the U.S. may soon abandon the historical climate accord signed in 2015, Donald Trump, a die-hard opponent against climate change, wrote on Twitter that his decision on the accord will be announced at the White House on Thursday.

But Trump’s advisors are deeply split over the tough decision. U.S. politicians, such as Steve Bannon, support the withdrawal, as they believe multilateral agreements are inefficient and may hurt U.S. interests, as well as dampen the country’s economic development. But Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are trying to persuade the president not to withdraw, fearing that such a move could damage relations with Europe, as its European allies have a lot invested in tackling climate change, Sun Chenghao, an assistant research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told People’s Daily Online.

Meanwhile, local governments and the public have also denounced Trump’s proposal to leave the accord. On May 3, governors of 12 states that are home to 107 million Americans and comprise approximately 38 percent of the country’s GDP jointly sent a letter to Trump, urging him to keep the U.S. in the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Despite Trump’s insistence on the campaign trail to quit the Paris accord, his advisers have not reached any consensus on the issue yet,” said Sun.

China’s efforts

Unlike the U.S., China has taken measures to address issues related to the agreement's implementation. According to Xinhua News Agency, the country plans to reduce carbon intensity by 18 percent and raise the proportion of non-fossil energy consumption in primary energy sources to 15 percent from 2016 to 2020.

Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative on climate change, said on May 22 at the 8th Petersburg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, Germany, that China is preparing to address issues related to the agreement’s implementation, so as to push forward global climate governance. In the same week, Trump lashed out at other countries’ efforts on tackling climate change.

“Five years ago, the idea of either China or India stopping—or even slowing—coal use was considered an insurmountable hurdle, as coal-fired power plants were thought by many to be necessary to satisfy the energy demands of these countries. Recent observations show they are now on the way toward overcoming this challenge,” Bill Hare of Climate Analytics was quoted as saying by Ecofys, a leading international energy and climate consultancy.

According to Climate Action Tracker’s report released in May, China is set to overachieve its Paris Agreement climate pledges. The country’s coal consumption declined over three consecutive years, from 2013 to 2016, and a continued slow decline is expected. The report also noted that positive developments in China significantly outweigh any potential negative effects on emissions from the Trump Administration’s proposed rollbacks in the U.S., estimated to be around 0.5 GtCO2 by 2030.

“China’s practical actions and investment will help the country take the lead in climate change,” said Zhang. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Kou Jie, Bianji)

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