The complex international situation has made China-US climate cooperation imperative and set back the global push for net-zero emissions
By ZHANG XIAOQIANG | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-14
The international landscape underwent complex and profound changes in 2022, exerting a far-reaching impact on global climate action. Globally, affected by such intertwined factors as the long-lasting impacts of COVID-19, the unabated anti-globalization sentiment, geopolitical tensions, the Ukraine crisis and surging commodity prices, a number of European nations have restarted coal-fired power plants to cope with the energy crisis, energy security has become increasingly important, and the global push for net-zero emissions has slowed or even experienced setbacks. This is hindering international cooperation on the "dual carbon" goals, peaking carbon dioxide emissions and achieving carbon neutrality.
To start with, global cooperation on the "dual carbon" goals is challenged by green trade barriers such as the European Union's carbon border tax.
Over the recent years, Western developed countries, those of the European Union in particular, have been strengthening their leadership and say in the field of global climate action with their advantages in emissions reduction policies, technologies and standards, by setting up green barriers and levying a carbon border tax.
For instance, in June 2022, the European Parliament adopted amendments on the proposal to establish a carbon border adjustment mechanism. The Clean Competition Act — a carbon border adjustment mechanism proposal — was introduced in the United States Senate in June 2022. The United Kingdom put forward the idea of brokering an alliance between the EU and G7 members for coordinated action on carbon border taxes.
Second, geopolitical conflicts have worsened the global environment for climate cooperation.
The Ukraine conflict has complicated the global environment. It has dealt a major blow to global commodity supplies and resulted in an energy price spike across Europe, with spillovers quickly spreading to other nations and resulting in intensifying inflationary pressure and economic downward pressure on countries, including China.
Third, prolonged China-US competition has added uncertainties to global cooperation on the "dual carbon" goals.
The adjustment in Europe's energy supply system and strategic planning has created new opportunities for China-Europe clean energy cooperation, but such cooperation is also faced with challenges from major-country competition.
Domestically, despite growing pressure in coordinating economic and social development, COVID-19 prevention and control, energy security, and the low-carbon transformation, China has been pressing ahead to realize the "dual carbon" goals in a well-ordered manner. Over the past years, China has made marked progress toward peaking its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060: The share of clean energy in total energy consumption has been climbing rapidly, the industrial structure continues to be optimized and upgraded, and energy efficiency has been improving.
Overall, the direction of the global green and low-carbon transition will not change. According to the BP Energy Outlook 2023, by 2050, the share of renewables in global primary energy will increase to 65 percent, the share of electricity in total final energy consumption will increase to over one-third, and the share of low-carbon hydrogen in primary energy will increase to over 13 percent.
But achieving carbon peaking and neutrality requires the concerted and collective action of all countries, especially when global climate action is hindered by factors such as the Ukraine crisis.
The US and European sanctions against Russia have dealt a heavy blow to Europe's energy system. The US is not only cracking down on Russia, but also selling energy to Europe at a higher price for extra profit, wreaking havoc on global energy relations.
China and the US, the world's two largest economies and major consumers and producers of energy, have suspended their climate cooperation in the wake of former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to China's Taiwan region. However, the two sides have a solid foundation for long-term cooperation on tackling climate change. The Joe Biden administration is taking steps to reduce emission to combat climate change, and the US Special Envoy on Climate Change John Kerry has called on the two sides to resume bilateral talks on climate issues. In the years to come, China and the US are likely to deepen bilateral climate cooperation.
To achieve the aforementioned goals, the key lies in advancing global cooperation on the "dual carbon "goals on an economy-by-economy basis.
First, China needs to further deepen exchanges and cooperation with European nations on green and low-carbon technologies.
China should make the most of its advantages in the solar and wind power industry chains and beef up cooperation with European countries on renewable energy projects. More advanced technologies should be introduced from Europe to China and the two sides should jointly explore cooperation opportunities in third-country markets. China should also strengthen coordination with the EU on the latter's Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, systematically analyze its functioning mechanisms and impacts, and put forward China's coping strategies to guarantee its legitimate rights to fair competition and development.
Second, China should continue to strengthen cooperation with the US on combating climate change.
China should seize the opportunity of the US wanting to restart climate cooperation to lessen its crackdown on China's new energy industries such as the solar PV industry and seize more initiative in bilateral cooperation. China should also increase exchanges with the US on the strengthening of the global climate change governance system and energy governance system and strive for a more advantageous position.
Third, China should promote security through global cooperation such as energy supply, transport routes construction, and payment and settlement systems development.
China should deepen global resources cooperation, open up new energy supply channels in order to reduce its dependence on the old ones, and carry out cooperation in the construction of international energy trade payment and settlement system.
Fourth, China needs to make solid progress in jointly building a green Belt and Road.
China and countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative should double down on efforts to share green and low-carbon technologies and jointly tackle key problems. China should give assistance to countries in need of coal power plant retrofits and help them enhance their green electricity generation capabilities. China and relevant countries should promote green and low-carbon devices and equipment to enter the markets of countries engaged in jointly building the Belt and Road and further optimize the mechanisms for green and low-carbon cooperation.
Last, China should vigorously participate in reform of the global climate change governance system.
By participating in the rules-making process in such areas as global carbon counting, carbon pricing and clean energy cooperation, China should push for the building of a climate change governance system that better reflects the voice of China and the common interests of the international community.