July 15. 2024. 6:41

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EU’S Ambitious Climate Targets: Why EU-China Cooperation is Vital


The Green Deal aims to make Europe “the first climate-neutral continent” by 2050. Reaching the objective will not be easy. There are many challenges to overcome. Recent decisions by the EU Commission may well have added to those challenges – writes Dick Roche, former Irish Minister for European Affairs and a former Minister for the Environment.

The Green Deal aims to focus the EU’s climate, energy, transport, and taxation policies on achieving the world’s most ambitious carbon emissions targets.

By 2030 the aim is to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to the 1990 levels, to bring that figure down by 90% by 2040 and to make Europe “the first climate-neutral continent” by 2050.

Technology Vs Politics

On 24th May the Commission published a list of 95 separate policy proposals, legislative actions, and agreements agreed since January 2020 as steps towards progressing the Green Deal.

In addition to outlining the progress made to date, the list demonstrates of how complex the road ahead will be and the level of policy coordination at EU, national, and subnational level and across all levels of industry that will be needed to complete the journey.

While the Commission’s 95 steps are impressive, political agreement alone will not deliver on the Green Deal’s ambitious targets. Technology will be the key to delivery.

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In 2021 the production and use of energy accounted for almost 77% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture accounted for 10.9% and industrial processes for 9.2%.

Decarbonising the EU’s energy system and cutting transport emissions are critical to reaching the EU’s 2030 and 2040 climate targets and to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

To fulfill its ambitions in clean energy production and in eliminating transport emissions the EU needs to employ the best available technologies. While Europe is no laggard in technology it will need technology partners to surmount the challenges it faces.

China the Ideal Partner.

Because of astute policies, major investment in R&D, and its capacity to roll out large-scale production China is the global dominant player in solar, wind energy, and in electric vehicles.

That reality may not suit some, it triggers paranoia in the US, but it remains a reality.

As the IEA has noted through investment in PV research and manufacture China has become home to the world’s 10 top suppliers of solar photovoltaic (PV) cell manufacturing equipment. That investment has brought costs for solar energy down making clean energy an affordable reality.

China is also a dominant player in wind energy. In March China’s wind farms produced over 100 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity. That was the highest monthly total from wind ever produced by a single country. It was more than twice the level generated in the United States, the second largest wind producer, and nearly nine times more than produced in Germany, the number three producer.

A Wood Mackenzie report issued last month records that Chinese-manufactured equipment accounted for 65% of global new wind capacity in 2023. Four wind turbine manufacturers from China are in the global top 5 for wind-generated capacity installation.

The appropriately named Goldwind installed a record 16.3 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity in 2023, remaining the global leader for a second year in a row, followed by Envision of China, Vestas of Denmark, and then Windey and MingYang, both from China.

When capacity installed in China is excluded from the rankings Denmark’s Vestas ranks number one in terms of capacity installed.

In addition to its lead in clean energy production China is also to the fore in smart grids, smart meters and a key player in smart energy storage.

Producing clean energy is one thing getting it to customers is another. Within the EU wind is an abundant in the west and northwest. Solar is the abundant clean energy source in the south and southwest. Wind is available in winter and solar in summer. Smart networks are critical in connecting the energy generation points to the end customers.

Turning to electric vehicles, China is the world’s leading ‘consumer’ and leading producer.

According to the IEA, more than half of the electric cars on roads worldwide are in China. In 2023 Chinese new EV registrations passed the 8 million mark, up 35% over 2022. In Europe, the figure was almost 2.3 million. In the US new electric car registrations totalled 1.4 million up 40% in 2022, helped by popular EV models becoming eligible for a $7,500 tax credit.

A sizable internal market and favourable government policies set the stage for China’s dominant position in EV production.

Innovation, particularly in battery technology, and cross-industry cooperation also played a major role. BYD China’s lead EV maker is a case in point. It began as a manufacturer of batteries for mobile phones entered into agreements with Daimler and Toyota and branched into battery electric vehicle [BEV] production. BYD has passed Tesla as the world’s top BEV maker while retaining its position as a major producer of EV batteries.

Paranoia about partnering with China

The idea of partnering with China triggers paranoia in some quarters. This was dramatically illustrated a few years back in the campaign to ban the world’s leading producer of 5G equipment from European networks. Myths about ownership, intellectual property, state funding, and potential security risks, most of which originated in the US, were widely peddled. Without being properly scrutinized these myths embedded in the minds EU policymakers, resulting in inflated costs for EU network operators and a brake on Europe’s ambitions for a rapid 5G rollout.

As in that case technologies developed in China are needed to deliver the Green Deal. It would make no sense for EU policymakers to ignore that reality.

There is however another reality: we are in a year where more countries are going to the polls in elections than ever before. Geopolitics and power dynamics are in play. Short term political exigencies advantage morph into policy.

This can be seen in a White House briefing on 14 May where President Biden announced plans to increase the tariffs on electric vehicles imported from China from 25% to 100% and to double the tariffs on solar cells from China to 50% ‘to protect US workers”, an election ploy aimed at blue-collar voters in swing states important in next November’s elections.

The focus in Washington on Chinese technology is also evident in Brussels, as demonstrated in the Commission’s decision to open an inquiry into Chinese suppliers of wind turbines, the attention it paid to a solar park development in Romania that led Chinese suppliers to withdrew from the bidding process and to its 12th June announcement of proposals for provisional duties of up to 38.1% on imports of electric vehicles made in China.

The tariffs will apply not only to Chinese owned EV makers but will also apply to cars manufactured in China by companies such as Tesla and BMW for export to Europe.

At a time when Europe wants to move to clean transport putting a tax on EVs is hard to fathom.

Making EVs more expensive will reinforce doubts about their future, depress demand and frustrate the fulfillment of one of the most challenging targets in the Green Deal. The action also risk of triggering retaliatory action.

With the excitement of the EU elections receding and a new EU Commission about to be formed, it is time for a rethink in Brussels.

Technological change will be a key driver of the green and digital transition in Europe. Like it or not China happens to be a leader in technologies that are vital if Europe is to progress towards carbon neutrality.

The logical thing for Europe to do at this point is to recognize that reality and to sit down with China and any other potential partners to hammer out solutions for the ideological, political and administrative differences that stand in the way of progress.

To recycle a phrase, jaw jaw is better than trade war.

Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

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