Window of opportunity for EU-China environmental cooperation


The creation of China´s Ministry of Ecological Environment announced last week is one of the major green news this year. The new ministry, headed by Li Ganjie, will be in charge of climate policy, marine environment and pollution from agricultural sources, in addition to the tasks of the old Ministry of the Environment.

A more powerful ministry is good news both for China and for global environmental governance. Coordination at the national level can improve. For example, climate policy can more closely be connected to other policy areas such as air pollution, water protection and biological diversity. Hopefully, disruptive infighting between different governmental bodies can be reduced. Another significant change is the creation of a new Ministry for Natural Resources, bringing together responsibilities for forestry, agriculture and land resources.

The organisation changes can also facilitate international cooperation. At a press conference on March 17, Li Ganjie emphasised China´s role in global governance `to build a clean and beautiful world´. The European Union and its member states should move quickly to make good use of this opportunity. Here are three examples of possible areas for deepened cooperation:

Air pollution. China´s efforts to reduce emissions are yielding results.  With Xi Jinping likely to stay in power for a long time, cleaner air will most probably remain one of the major items on the political agenda. Li Ganjie has already indicated that stricter limit values will be set for particulate matter (PM 2.5) for the period after 2020. The European Union and its member states are already cooperating with China in this area, but more can be done for example regarding: policy measures for better fuel quality including shipping, economic instruments for cost-efficient reduction of sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions, coherent strategies against volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and in-use vehicles control. Deepened cooperation on air pollution is also relevant in an East Asia regional context, where well-designed involvement of third parties such as the EU can help bridge historical tensions between China, Japan and Korea.

Climate change. Since Donald Trump took office, China and the European Union are the two main drivers for continued global efforts to combat climate change. Strengthened cooperation can include  knowledge sharing on carbon taxes as a complementary strategy to the highly risky Chinese emission trading experiment, joint assessments on the efficiency of policy measures (that can feed into a developed `Policies and measures´part of the climate convention), and reducing negative climate impacts of infrastructure investments (with the Belt and Road initiative as one example).

Non-toxic material cycles. China has a crucial role in global production networks and value chains. This is also true for recycling. Last year´s ban on imports of plastic waste has raised concerns in rich countries dependent on exporting such used materials to China. However, the ban is understandable given the health and environmental problems linked to often illegal waste imports. Instead, the decision and further ambitions of the Chinese government can give useful impetus to more ambitious policies within the European Union, for example to the negotiation on the new strategy on plastic waste.  Europe and China can cooperate more closely in global frameworks such as the Basel convention and international governance of chemicals. Another aspect is the ecological effects of imported natural resources, well highlighted in a recent report by China Council and in the European Union´s conclusions on resource efficiency.

There are of course many other possible areas for deepened cooperation and much is already happening. However, now is a good time for a more coherent and strategic approach, and closer coordination between EU member states. From a geopolitical perspective, such cooperation can also facilitate long-term stability in the region, including Korea and Japan in a broader EU-East Asia context.

Canada and Europe can show green transatlantic leadership


Canada is putting environmental issues high on its agenda for the G7 Presidency. `We are looking at a zero-plastics-waste charter´, said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna this week at the World Ocean Summit in Cancun. As chair of G7 this year, Canada would like the rich and powerful countries to agree on far-reaching goals for recycling of plastics and waste reduction. `We could build on goals like having 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging´, said McKenna.

Earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced climate change, oceans and clean energy as some of the priorities for the G7 Presidency. The progressive agenda also puts emphasis on gender equality. Quite a contrast to president Trump. It will be most interesting to follow developments in G7 this year, including the June Summit in Charleroix, Quebec.

Canada has a long and proud tradition in environmental policy, even if the level of ambition has varied in recent years depending on the political leadership. For example, the North American country was a forerunner in efforts to protect the ozone layer, resulting in the Montreal protocol. Canadian Maurice Strong played a crucial role both for the Stockholm conference in 1972 and for the Rio conference in 1992.

With Justin Trudeau at the helm, Canada is once again in the forefront of environment policy. The introduction of carbon taxes as part of the ambitious national climate change strategy is one such example. There are also a number of promising initiatives at province level.

At the same time, the CETA agreement between Canada and the EU is scheduled to soon enter into force. It is already applied provisionally, with the EU Commission for example having solicited comments on the forthcoming regulatory cooperation.

The EU and its Member States share many values with Canada, including on environment. There are many reasons to reinforce the cooperation with an ambitious joint green agenda. For example, the EU Commission recently put forward its strategy on plastics and a number of Member States are already moving ahead. Why not start with jointly pushing for a global agreement to ban plastic microbeads in consumer products?

Such green cooperation between Canada and the European Union would also provide a well-needed contrast to the foreign and trade policy of the Trump administration.