EU and China fail to issue statement on climate at summit

At the end of the summit between the European Union and China last Friday on June 2, 2017, the two global powers fell short of producing an expected joint statement on climate change because they remained divided on trade issues, as Reuters and Deutsche Welle report. Disagreement over steel production and the refusal of the EU to recognise China as a free market economy have been stated to have turned the scale. The talks did not only address climate change and trade issues but also other key foreign policy topics and security challenges, including the North Korean nuclear dispute, as it was stated by the EU. Moreover, a business summit took place at the margins of the meeting.

The news conference following the meeting with the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, was delayed for three hours, which indicates that efforts to find a common ground were undertaken.

On climate change, both Li Keqiang and Donald Tusk emphasised that they will continue tackling climate change despite the announcement of U.S. president Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Both entities reaffirmed their commitment to reduce the use of fossil fuels and to expand the utilisation of green technologies as well as to support poor and vulnerable countries in their climate change efforts. Jean-Claude Juncker also underscored that China and the EU fully recognise the need for international solutions to address climate change effectively. Donald Tusk said that the EU is “stepping up” its cooperation on climate change with China. The both entities would have “demonstrated solidarity with future generations and responsibility for the whole planet”.

However, differences on other matters turned out to be insurmountable. China demanded that it should not be treated as a special case in the World Trade Organization (WTO) after being a member since 15 years. Instead, it should receive the Market Economy Status that would free the country from anti-dumping investigations within the WTO. However, China is still accused to be responsible for the excess of steel on global markets as its output is almost double the EU’s steel production. It has also been criticised that EU firms do not find a level playing field with Chinese firms when entering and investing in the Chinese market. In contrast, Chinese firms are allowed to absorb European high technology companies and do not face any restrictions. Nevertheless, the overall atmosphere of the meeting was described as “warm”.

A draft of the joint communiqué on climate change ready to be adopted had been leaked before the summit. Therein, it said that “[the] EU and China consider climate action and the clean energy transition an imperative more important than ever” and that they confirm their commitments to the Paris Agreement. The two global payers expressed their intent to increase their cooperation and to “work together with all stakeholders to combat climate change […] and promote global low GHG emissions, climate resilient and sustainable development”. They also pledged to set up new policies and measures to implement their nationally-determined contributions (NDCs). Moreover, a successful conclusion of the negotiations of the Paris rulebook and of the facilitative dialogue to take stock of collective progress in tackling climate change in 2018 was called for. In addition, the draft addressed the issues of pre-2020 climate action and progress in other multilateral fora, including G20, the Kigali Amendment under the Montreal Protocol, in the ICAO and the IMO. Furthermore, the consistency of financial flows and the need for sustainable investment and green finance were mentioned. Besides, according to the draft, the EU and China would have pledged in the draft to communicate by 2020 long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies as it is demanded by the Paris Agreement. Last but not least, the EU and China intended to extend their collaboration on many issue areas, providing that “climate change and clean energy will become a main pillar of their bilateral partnership”, including on emission trading, energy efficiency, storage capacities, fuel economy standards and science. A reaffirmation of commitment to Mission Innovation, a former US-lead initiative to spur global clean energy innovation, was contained along these lines as well.

If the statement would have been adopted, it would have supposedly marked a turning point in the international power structures, especially regarding to the climate change negotiations under the UNFCCC, as Climate Home reports. The joint statement has been assessed to have used forceful language that is rarely seen is such documents. Though, it has also been criticised that the EU and China remain highly reliant on fossil fuels and that the announcements would have been to a certain extent canting. Nevertheless, it can be concluded that climate change has become an important issue at political summits, as could also be seen lately at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy. Not only environmental ministers but also the heads of state and governments now dedicate their attention to the topic. However, the EU-China summit shows that climate change cannot outplay disagreements in other policy areas and that its stakes and risks are increased by getting together with other controversial issues. After all, it remains open how this issue will further develop, as another climate summit to be held along with Canada in September was announced at the margins of the EU-China meeting.


(Image: EU-China Summit. Source: European External Action Service, flickr)