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Webinar: Will China be Greener after Covid-19?

13 May 2020

On 13 May, the EU-Asia Centre hosted a webinar discussion on whether China will be greener after Covid 19. Isabel Hilton (Editor of China Dialogue), Dr Zhang Jianyu (Environmental Defense Fund VP and Beijing Office Chief Rep.) and Elena Bardram (HoU of International Relations at DG Clima, European Commission) participated in the panel moderated by Fraser Cameron, the Director of EU-Asia Centre.

In his introduction Cameron noted that the International Energy Agency had forecast a 6% drop in fossil fuel consumption this year. At the same time the IMF had forecast a sharp drop in economic growth in Europe and China. Both would be interested in a speedy recovery but what kind of stimulus and how would the aim of a Green deal?

Isabel Hilton said the China was becoming greener but still had a long way to go. The longer it postponed tough decisions the more difficult it would become. Regrettably Covid-19 had side-tracked two key developments which would have tested China’s leadership – the COP15 biodiversity summit and COP26 climate summit. Domestically, there is a concern that China’s Covid-19 stimulus won’t prioritize enough green measures which deliver in long term due to short term impetus to reach the 2020 economic and poverty targets for the completion of the 13th five year plan. China must ramp up its ambitions for greener economy in the 14th five year plan if it hopes to keep to its Paris commitments. Currently its policies are often not compatible with its own goals. Most worrying aspect is the surge in coal investment both domestically and abroad through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that will lock in carbon emissions for years to come. China as a self-defined ‘eco-civilization’ should seize the oppurtunity to demonstrate that its commitments are real. Civil society still had an important role to play in making China a greener country

Dr Zhang Jianyu was quite positive about China’s recent developments and discussion post-Covid 19. Although there were regrettable moves on on coal power, the party leadership was still emphasizing a green recovery and sustainability. There was a widespread view in China that it had to become a more sustainable, greener and resilient society. Also boosting consumption has now been examined with consideration for emissions. China remains committed to Paris sagreement to ‘eco-civilization’ and is vying to be a torch bearer on the issue and it should be encouraged to be more explit on its communication. China’s desire to collaborate with the EU is genuine and the fundamentals are there for much more.

Elina Bardram stated that while there is some encouraging signs of Chinese stimulus spending on modern infrastructure allowing integration of more renewables, the surge in ‘clean’ coal investment could jeopardize China’s decarbonisation. With 28% of world carbon emissions, China needs to commit to more ambitious targets to narrow down the broad ones made in Paris, including carbon neutrality around 2050. Meanwhile, the EU is tightening its own goals to 55% reduction from 1990 levels of carbon emissions. The meetings between the EU and China in June and September will be pivotal in pushing forward a green recovery and the climate agenda.

See the full recording here.