EU - China Joint Communique on Climate and Environment
Big progress right before COP15 on biodiversity
A joint press communique has just been released by the EU, following the High Level Environment and Climate Dialogue between vice premier Han Zheng and executive vice president Timmermans on 27 September 2021 (see the full text of the communique in English and Chinese).
It is the most significant joint statement on the environment between Chinese and European leaders since the one between Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron in November 2019.
It comes right before an expected important speech from President Xi Jinping, who is slated to address world leaders tomorrow in the high-level segment of COP15 for biodiversity. The EU – China communique contains various breakthroughs:
- Deforestation and supply chains. The communique mentions: “Both sides agreed to engage collaboratively in support of reducing global deforestation through enhancing cooperation in conservation and sustainable management of forests, making supply chain more sustainable, and combating illegal logging and associated trade.” This is the first time that one of China’s top leaders has explicitly emphasised this, and it is an extremely important step in the context of global action for biodiversity. One of the key drivers behind global biodiversity loss is the conversion of rainforest for the production of soft commodities such as soy, palm oil, beef, pulp and paper, and timber. European leaders and environmental advisors, including CCICED, have repeatedly emphasised this as a critical issue. Having this important point included in the communique gives me increased confidence that both China and Europe will quickly step up their efforts in this regard.
- Strong implementation mechanisms in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). The communique mentions: “…measurable goals and targets and appropriate mechanisms for monitoring, reporting and review, as well as strong provisions for implementation and planning, and means to support implementation.” Many country negotiators and environmental groups have insisted that much stronger implementation provisions are needed for an effective post-2020 GBF. Unlike the climate convention, currently the CBD has no convenient mechanisms to keep track of the collective ambitions of countries, nor to regularly take stock of global progress. Clear systems of common indicators, monitoring, reporting and review, and global stocktaking of progress and ratcheting of ambitions, are all urgently needed to reverse biodiversity loss. This is the first time for a Chinese leader to explicitly support the need for this.
- Climate cooperation. The communique mentions important new areas of climate cooperation, including the coal transitions, fossil fuel subsidies, and non-CO2 gases including methane. While they may all seem obvious priority areas in the fight against climate change, this is the first time that they are recognised as priority areas of EU – China cooperation. The coal transitions and fossil fuel subsidies are particularly tough areas which need to be managed very carefully, as is highlighted by the recent power shortages in China. The communique mentions that China will release its climate policies (the “1+N” policy system) soon – its release may have been slightly delayed due to the power shortages. Controlling methane emissions may seem like a low hanging fruit in comparison, but is also incredibly important in mitigating warming caused by this short-lived greenhouse gas. I’m confident that having positive international cooperation, and exchanging best practices to manage these difficult transitions, will bring great benefits to both sides, as well as to global climate action.
Given the complex geopolitical situation today, the joint communique is an important achievement in itself. The communique also explicitly mentions that this high-level dialogue is a platform not just to exchange best practices, but importantly also to enhance ambitions and actions. This should help to give confidence to other countries that these important regions will continue to increase their climate and environment ambitions over time.
The joint communique reconfirms the positive environmental relations between China and the EU, which is so critical in the context of the global climate and biodiversity crises. In this article on the website of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, I share some of my hopes and expectations for the first phase of COP15.
Dimitri de Boer
Chief representative for China, ClientEarth
Team Leader, EU – China Environment Project
Kunming, 11 October 2021