‘We need to talk to China,’ Europe’s climate chief says ahead of COP26

LONDON — International leaders need to talk to China and convince the nation to implement concrete steps toward de-carbonization, the EU’s climate chief told CNBC Tuesday ahead the COP26 climate summit in November.

China announced earlier this month that it would stop building new coal-fired power projects overseas. The nation has also said that it aims to become carbon neutral by 2060 and that it will hit peak emissions by 2030. However, European officials want these ambitions to go beyond words and be followed up with immediate and concrete action.

“We need to look at emissions. Europe is responsible for about 8% of global emissions — we are taking a very, very serious commitment and we are going very far. The United States has come back into the game, they’re responsible, I think, for about 16% of emissions, but we need to talk to China, they’re responsible for about 28% of global emissions,” Frans Timmermans, who is the European Commission’s executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick.

“We need to convince them to peak earlier than 2030, substantially earlier, and we need to convince them to come up with plans to de-carbonize their economy,” Timmermans said.

He echoed a view shared by Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch.

“The goals that President Xi has set for China are encouraging. But we call for that same leadership on setting out how China will get there. The world would be relieved if they showed they could peak emissions by mid-decade — and move away from coal at home and abroad,” von der Leyen told European lawmakers earlier this month.

The EU has so far presented one of the most specific plans on how it intends to lower greenhouse gas emissions. In a wide-ranging package called “Fit for 55,” the commission outlined earlier this summer how the 27 EU members can reduce emissions by at least 55% by the end of this decade.

The package has yet to be approved by the European Parliament and the national governments, but it sheds light on the aims that Brussels has for climate policy. But the bloc recognizes that without international cooperation, its efforts will be in vain.

Timmermans noted that without China’s participation at the last big global climate conference in Paris in 2015, the landmark agreement at the time would not have happened.

“We need them again in Glasgow. I hope we can convince them to be bold,” he said.

There are question marks on how successful the upcoming COP26 meeting will be. It is the first gathering of its kind in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and many governments are still struggling with the economic costs brought on by lockdowns and social restrictions.

Roberto Cingolani, minister for ecological transition in Italy, is hoping that richer nations will announce they are stepping up their contributions to support other countries with financing the carbon transition.

“This is the right way, the next weeks will be crucial. I hope we can land at COP26 at the end of October with good news. We are all working in this direction,” Cingolani told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick Tuesday.

He added that the world has not done enough on climate change and it is time to listen to people such as activist Greta Thunberg.

“We have to respond to the push, properly. We didn’t do enough so far. We can do more,” he said.

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