Can an EU-China alliance carry forward the Paris Agreement?

The world is moving ahead on climate targets with Europe and China at the helm but will it be enough? Chinese experts give their view

Within 24 hours of President Trump announcing a US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, leaders from the European Union (EU) and China committed to curb the use of fossil fuels, provide assistance to poorer countries in reducing emissions, and push ahead with low carbon technologies.

Although EU members are struggling to maintain their own momentum on climate targets, with some member states falling behind on emission targets, Chinese experts are bullish on the prospects of stronger EU-China cooperation based on shared economic interests and environmental realities.

Xu Jintao, deputy director, National School of Development, Peking University

Given the current circumstances, China-EU cooperation is the only option for moving forward. International trade talks won’t hamper China-EU climate cooperation – China has its own inherent motivation: domestic pressure to protect the environment and reduce emissions; while Europe has long held positive environmental ideals.

Many European nations are green and clean. If countries like China and India continue to increase emissions, their relative market competitiveness will fall. So both parties are motivated to cooperate on the climate.

The orchestra may play a little quieter without the US, but the music will go on

Zou Ji, adjunct professor, School of Economics and Management, Harbin Institute of Technology

China-EU cooperation on the climate is inevitable and will be ongoing and sustained.

The success of the Paris talks was of course an important outcome of China-US cooperation, but cooperation between China and the EU and China and the wider developing world must be recognised and is essential, this is the product of multilateral cooperation.

There are over 190 signatories to the Paris Agreement, and the vast majority of them will not follow the US and withdraw – their commitments are voluntary, and that’s what gives the Paris Agreement its vitality. The orchestra may play a little quieter without the US, but the music will go on.

Zhang Haibin, professor, School of International Relations, Peking University (quoted in Caixin)

The US is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the most influential nation in terms of politics and economics, and so its withdrawal will leave a leadership vacuum. While the EU is willing to lead it cannot do so while dealing with Brexit talks and various crises. For various reasons, the “leadership deficit” facing the implementation of the Paris Agreement is worsening.

China cannot alone fill the gap left by the US, but it can bring people together and coordinate; it can advocate for joint leadership by the EU and the BASIC nations (Brazil, South Africa, India and China); increase alignment between its OBOR [One Belt, One Road] strategy and both the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda; and further promote South-South climate cooperation – all helping minimise the impact of the Trump administration’s unhelpful policies on climate.

Beijing and Brussels… need to accelerate their domestic actions

Li Shuo, climate policy advisor of Greenpeace East Asia

“The rapid backlash of US climate action requires enhanced leadership from all other countries. We are seeing new leadership taking shape between Brussels and Beijing today in concrete terms.

The new level of cooperation indicates their political resolve to work together in the age of Trump. However, to demonstrate Beijing and Brussels can truly lead, both need to accelerate their domestic actions. Recognising the overachievement of their respective international emission reduction targets and enhance these commitments is a good place to start.”

Update: The original version of this article said that China and the EU had jointly pledged to strengthen ties in an attempt to counter the retreat from the US federal government on climate action. In the end, a formal climate statement was not released because of a disagreement over trade.