As relations between the West and China continue to deteriorate, climate policy is one of the areas where cooperation is most clearly in everyone’s interest. For the EU it is crucial to devise a strategy for how we can uphold our values and principles while collaborating with authoritarian nations such as China on the green transition. This can only be done by leveraging our strengths in areas where China remains dependent on cooperation with the outside world. (1)
We get a sense of the scale of the challenge when looking at the downward spiral of the US-China relationship and its effect on climate cooperation. China insists that cooperation with the US on climate cannot simply be split from other policy issues, while the US in turn has stated that there can be no trade-off where cooperation in this area buys silence on issues such as human rights.
There is no doubt that the Chinese government is taking climate change seriously; President Xi Jinping has announced a timeline where China’s carbon emissions are to peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality is reached before 2060. As China and the West pursue the green technologies of the future, cooperation and positive competition will remain crucial. The EU must focus on how cooperation on climate can progress if ties with China continue to fray due to geopolitical rivalry. This will be even more urgent if a Republican wins the US elections in 2024 or 2028, in which case joint efforts in green technological innovation by China and the EU might become of existential importance for averting global climate breakdown.
Lack of strategic clarity
The EU has largely settled on European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s idea of 'de-risking' the relationship with China: making ourselves less dependent on China for vital goods. However, there seems to be little consensus on what this entails. For example, on their visits to China in October 2022 and April 2023 respectively, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron signalled their intention to continue pursuing further economic entanglement and avoid confrontation with China.