EU, China and Canada renewing and promise to action on climate change, in spite of the virus and the economic crisis

In spite of the economic crisis posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the EU, China and Canada sent “a clear political signal” on Tuesday (7 July) that they are still committed to the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Frans Timmermans, the EU’s climate chief, hosted the fourth ministerial on climate action (MoCA) at a videoconference on Tuesday, together with the environment ministers of Canada and China, Jonathan Wilkinson and Huang Runqiu.

As the global coronavirus pandemic recedes, the meeting focused on aligning global recovery measures with the Paris Agreement, and improving resilience against future crises, the European Commission said.

The MoCA “sends a clear political signal that the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will go hand in hand with the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies,” said a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the meeting.

That was not a foregone conclusion. In April, as the world reeled from the pandemic, the UN called off its annual climate summit – known as conference of parties, or COPs – and rescheduled it to November 2021.

In Europe, as governments scrambled to fight the pandemic, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis urged the EU to ditch its flagship Green Deal but the European Commission resisted those calls and stuck to its international climate policy timeline.

“The planet cannot wait for us to take action on climate change,” Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s executive vice-president in charge of the European Green Deal, said at yesterday’s ministerial meeting.

“We have been forced by COVID-19 to postpone COP26, but we are working with all of our international partners to share ideas and experience on restructuring and cleaning up our economies,” he added.

The Ministerial on Climate Action (MoCA) is an annual meeting attended by ministers and high-level representatives from more than 30 countries, including ministers from the G20 and chairs of key party groupings in the UN climate negotiations.

To their attention, Timmermans pointed to the EU’s proposed €750 billion recovery package, which also includes support for the EU’s foreign partners.

“Without a green recovery we would come out of the COVID crisis only to find out we’ve sleepwalked into a climate crisis,” Timmermans warned, adding: “it is also our duty to come up with plans to restore our economies and to increase the resilience of our societies”.

Worrying signs

There are worrying signs though that the global recovery from the pandemic may not end up being green at all.

In May, China said it would allow more provinces to start building coal power plants, starting in 2023, and committed billions of dollars to cross-country electricity transmission lines in an effort to restart its economy.

Japan and South Korea were also expected to continue funding coal plants in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia to support state-backed industries operating there, according to Reuters.

Across the Atlantic, the United States has continued to pursue policies in favour of coal and unabated fossil gas while shunning international climate talks.

And in Europe, governments have poured nearly €2 trillion to bail out airlines and other struggling companies, without any consideration for green objectives.

At the MoCA meeting, “the co-chairs acknowledged today that societies around the world have been affected differently by the pandemic and are at different stages in planning for the recovery”.

But one EU official who took part in the meeting said the atmosphere was “good and positive,” despite the challenging times. “Everybody regretted not being able to do it in person and wanted to make sure that we don’t lose momentum by the postponement of COP26,”.

In his opening speech, Timmermans hammered that point home, saying world nations won’t have a second chance of getting their recovery plans right. “The climate crisis is still there, the biodiversity crisis is still there and we will have one shot at addressing them together with the recovery plans that will now be made.”

“We can mobilise the funds for recovery,” Timmermans said. “It is not going to be easy, but we as a global community will have to do that,” he stressed.

As the day’s talks drew to a close, one EU official said he saw “a strong sense of urgency” among participants, as well as “a strong sense that our recovery should be green if it is to be successful”.

Ministers agreed to reconvene next year, ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow. By then, it will become clear whether that judgement was overly optimistic or not.

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