China, the US and Europe Should Cooperate to Avoid Climate Disaster

Climate change is more important than geopolitics.

A lack of cooperation between the Big 3 carbon emitters is impeding global efforts to avoid catastrophic planetary warming, a high-level conference was told on Monday.

In an address to the First Dialogue of the China-Europe-America Net-Zero Transition Platform, former NATO General-Secretary Javier Solana said the world needs a level of cooperation that so far, we have not achieved.

The platform is a part of China-Europe-America Global Initiative.

“One of my main worries for the future of humanity is whether we will be able to cooperate in tackling the climate crisis,” he said.

The former NATO General Secretary’s concerns were shared by the vast majority of the distinguished speakers in attendance. Experts from government, diplomacy, academia, business, and finance, agreed that greater cooperation was needed if the world is to meet the Paris climate goals.

First, there needs to be greater State-to-State cooperation, particularly between China, the European Union (EU) and the United States. “As the three largest emitters, the actions we take are consequential and [may determine] whether we reach net zero and 1.5°C,” said Deborah Lehr, Vice Chairman and Executive Director of the Paulson Institute.

The group photo of the guests participating in the First Dialogue of the China-Europe-America Net-Zero Transition Platform. (Photo/Screenshot)

China-Europe-US cooperation essential

Deteriorating relations between China and the United States were recognized as the greatest barrier to climate cooperation. The joint statement by Beijing and Washington at COP26 in Glasgow was a welcome move however, tensions in other areas risk spilling over and dampening climate efforts.

G. Bin Zhao, a senior economist at PwC, explained that in order for China to achieve its target of carbon neutrality by 2060, $83 trillion in capital investment is needed over the next four decades. In order to raise the necessary funds, China relies on access to global capital markets, he said. If China cannot attract the capital, it will not be able to meet its climate goals.

A figure was not given as to how much the US or Europe requires to transition towards a net-zero future though it is certain that both will require access to the world’s second-largest economy in order to succeed.

“Climate change is more important than geopolitics,” Zhao added. Vincent Hieff, Consul General of Luxembourg in Shanghai, agreed. Europe can play a key role in ensuring climate efforts are not derailed by the great power rivalry, he said. “Europe can act as a mediator between these two big countries.”
Speaking on behalf of 10,000 Chinese companies in Europe, Frank Wang, China Chamber of Commerce to the EU, said the transition to a green future need not be so daunting. In fact, it offers considerable benefits, he said: “100 percent of the companies interviewed see huge development [opportunities] in the EU’s transition towards a green economy.”

Aerial photo taken on Jul. 30, 2018 shows an electric bus running on the Yanggongdi Causeway in the West Lake scenic area in Hangzhou, capital of east China’s Zhejiang Province. (Photo/Xinhua)

Public-private partnership

In addition to greater cooperation between nations, there needs more cooperation between governments and the private sector, the conference was told. The private sector, with its capital and innovation, is essential to achieving the green transition. Indeed, research from the Paulson Institute shows that governments may only be able to provide between 10 and 15 percent of the finance needed. “It’s only with the private sector involved that we can be successful,” Lehr added.

That said, governments cannot take too much of a laissez-faire approach. Market forces alone are not going to be enough to drive the changes necessary, said Leslie Massdrop, Vice President and CFO of New Development Bank. Gian maria Gros-Pietro, Chairman of Italy’s largest bank Intesa Sanpaolo, agreed: “State intervention may be necessary and, in some cases, crucial.”  The 2008 global financial crisis showed us the need for the State to regulate and monitor markets, he said. “Only a collective effort, led by states, in the scope of a global agreement, will lead to a successful outcome,” Gros-Pietro added.

Finance was recognized as one of the key building blocs in tackling climate change. Irina Bokova, Former Director-General of UNESCO, said finance must increase eightfold to meet the required amount by the end of the decade. “Plugging this massive financial gap will require cooperation between the public, policymakers, and the private sector – from the local to the international level,” she added.

Towards a “just transition”

Beyond fostering greater cooperation, experts agreed on the need to pursue a “just transition” towards a net-zero economy. The concept of a “just transition” is based on recognizing that countries do not share equal responsibility in addressing the climate crisis.

Noting that almost 400 million people in the developing world do not have access to reliable electricity, Maasdrop said “greater prominence” needs to be given to a just transition. Indeed, it hardly seems fair ordering those that have contributed least to planetary warming to follow the same rules as those that historically, have contributed most.

Du Zhanyuan, President of China International Publishing Group, proposed two solutions to overcome this issue. First, developed countries should lead by example and substantially reduce their emissions, he said. Next, wealthy countries need to provide financial and technological assistance to those less prosperous.