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Western leaders' divisive remarks threaten global climate fight

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2022-09-16 08:32
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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers state of the European Union address to the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, France, September 14, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Leaders from the United States to the European Union often emphasize that climate change is the top threat facing the world. But at the same time, they never hesitate to politicize and undermine the global fight against climate change.

That was exactly the case when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her State of the EU address on Wednesday. She fearmongered about China's processing capacity of rare earths and lithium, which are vital for building solar photovoltaic panels and electric vehicle (EV) batteries. For the second time in a few weeks, she called the development "not so good news", sending a wrong message to the international community on global cooperation on clean technology, especially between China and the EU.

She should have instead applauded China's rapid advancement in the EV and solar panel sectors. Unlike von der Leyen's claims, there is good news: the EU business leaders I talked with recently said cooperation with Chinese companies is vital because they have a 20-year head start in those sectors, and stressed that they disagreed with politicians saying otherwise.

Many members of the European Parliament criticized von der Leyen's annual address for being short on climate change, with a large number of analysts saying the EU's ambitious "Green Deal" is likely to be delayed due to the high inflation, the energy crisis and the looming economic recession facing the European bloc.

Von der Leyen was in the spotlight last week for skipping, along with other EU leaders, a climate adaptation meeting with African leaders who had travelled all the way from African cities to Amsterdam. Senegalese President Macky Sall and Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo criticized the no show by European leaders. Only Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte attended the meeting as host.

Rich countries, which promised in 2009 to deliver $100 billion a year to developing nations as climate finance up to 2020, have yet to honor their climate promise. No wonder United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was furious on Tuesday, saying "it is a scandal that developed countries have failed to take adaptation seriously, and shrugged off their commitments to help the developing world".

Guterres' remarks came shortly after a report by researchers of United in Science, coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization, showed that the world is heading in the wrong direction to the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Droughts, floods and wildfires across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America mean that no country is immune to the global climate challenge. So developing sustainable green technology and green infrastructure should be a common cause, regardless of the ideological differences among countries.

The climate fight is not about democracy versus autocracy as some US and EU politicians claim. Yet US President Joe Biden tweeted on Tuesday that, "America invented modern aviation. But we've allowed our airports to lag far behind our competitors", referring obviously to the fast rise of modern airports in Chinese cities. What he should have done is to congratulate China for its green achievements while urging American industries and other sectors to catch up with China, rather than wishing China would fall behind.

The cooperation on climate change between China and the US during the Barack Obama administration, when Biden was US vice-president, was critical to finalizing the 2015 Paris Agreement and injecting fresh momentum into the global climate fight. But the momentum was lost when previous US president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement.

China and the EU, too, cooperated effectively in the global fight against climate change, with the EU providing expertise to China in launching a national carbon trading market last year based on the bloc's experience of launching and operating the Emissions Trading System.

Increasing divisive and Cold War rhetoric by the current US and EU leaders, however, is making cooperation on climate change and clean technology more difficult, which is "not so good news" ahead of the 27th UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.

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