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United front desired on climate challenge

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-03 08:30

File photo shows a wind power plant in Zhangjiakou, North China's Hebei province. [Photo/Xinhua]

A united front from China, the EU and the US in dealing with climate change is "fundamental" to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, researchers said as countries are preparing for a crucial climate summit in Glasgow.

Brussels currently tends to develop more joint programs with Beijing, as its ability to cooperate with Washington was affected by the latter's changing policy, noted Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow with the Chatham House, and his colleague Daniel Quiggin.

The US climate policy has been "unnervingly inconsistent", so the Biden administration will need to work hard to build trust, they noted in a paper released by the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs last week.

They also said the EU is "consistently ambitious", and China has powered the shift to low-cost renewables.

China, the EU and the US have been the most important parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which are able to "encourage or discourage greater ambition", the authors wrote.

The three major economies are responsible for about 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and consume nearly 50 percent of the world's energy. Therefore, their decisions have significant implications for the world's climate and energy security, they noted.

They noted that the year 2021 could be a "vital year" for cooperative climate diplomacy, as countries are due to submit revised pledges to the UNFCCC and will negotiate at the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow in November, in an attempt to put global mitigation plans back on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

"Therefore, a united front from these major players and demonstrable examples of cooperation will be fundamental to the success of meeting objectives of the Paris Agreement," they wrote in the study "China, EU and US cooperation on climate and energy - An ever-changing relationship".

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement to which almost all countries are signatories, the world should commit to capping the global temperature rise well below 2 C, preferably 1.5 C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The researchers said that a country's mitigation and adaptation policy needs to be consistent and stable, which is the case in both the EU and China, while the partisan nature of climate debate in the US is detrimental to policy effectiveness, prompting the European bloc to engage more with China.

"In the US, climate change remains a partisan issue, with Democratic administrations introducing climate policies, only for these to be slowed down or reversed by Republicans," the authors wrote.

This "stop-start approach" to climate mitigation and adaptation reduces the impact of domestic policies and diminishes the effectiveness of the US in the international process.

An EU official once said that the polarized nature of the climate debate in the US provided European countries with "cycles of hope and despair", the authors wrote, adding that the political nature impacts the EU's ability to cooperate with the US to advance climate ambition.

"It is clear that, while the US is important regardless of changes in administrations, the EU has continued to invest more in developing climate cooperation and joint programs with China," they noted.

They wrote that China and the EU will continue to engage internationally on climate change issues whatever the political situation is in the US.

"What is more, to some degree, they see their role as more important when there is less engagement from the US," the authors wrote.

The researchers also analyzed the different attitudes of the EU, the US and China toward implementing the carbon border taxes, which the authors acknowledged are sensitive and "politically and technologically difficult" to levy on import goods.

As to the US mitigation pledges, the authors said that as well as agreeing to a 2050 net zero target, which was a part of President Joe Biden's campaign platform, the US will have to submit a nationally determined contribution (NDC) for 2030, as it has now rejoined the Paris Agreement.

This is expected to be in the range of a 45-50 percent reduction in emissions below 2005 levels, which is likely to be published before this summer, according to the authors.

"The international community takes note of the potentially short-lived nature of US climate policy and therefore the Biden administration will have to go the extra mile to demonstrate that there has been an impactful change in policy," the researchers wrote.

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