UK climate envoy's China meeting paves way for COP15, COP26
Published: Sep 08, 2021 12:01 AM
Alok Sharma the UK minister in charge of the COP26 talks, met with Huang Runqiu, Chinese Minister of Ecology and Environment, through a virtual meeting on Monday. Photo: Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment

Alok Sharma the UK minister in charge of the COP26 talks, met with Huang Runqiu, Chinese Minister of Ecology and Environment, through a virtual meeting on Monday. Photo: Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment

As the three-day climate talks between the Chinese representatives and UK envoy Alok Sharma in North China's Tianjin enter the final day, experts described it as more pragmatic and moderate compared with the one with US special climate envoy John Kerry, three days ahead of the China-UK talks. 

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng had a video meeting with Sharma on Tuesday. Han said China and the UK have maintained sound cooperative relations in addressing climate change and hope to leverage their respective strengths and strengthen dialogue and cooperation, the Xinhua News Agency reported.  

Sharma, also the president-designate of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), met with Huang Runqiu, Chinese Minister of Ecology and Environment, through a virtual meeting on Monday. The ministry said they had in-depth exchanges on issues such as mutual support and collaboration at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) and COP26. 

Han re-emphasized on Tuesday that it is hoped that COP26 will send a strong political signal to firmly uphold multilateralism, respect multilateral rules, and promote actions; actively call for all parties to transform climate goals into specific policies and actions, Xinhua reported. 

Sharma described the talks with Han as "constructive discussions" in his Twitter posted on Tuesday. "We spoke about the importance of climate action, our goals for COP26 and COP15, and opportunities for enhanced UK-China cooperation on clean energy, low carbon trade and investment and green finance."

Sharma is also expected to exchange views with China's climate envoy Xie Zhenhua on climate cooperation between the two countries and COP 26. No detailed information was released as of press time. 

Comparing with Kerry, Sharma showed a more readily cooperative attitude that seeks mutual support for the COP26 in Glasgow and strengthen the UK's existing position on climate change, analysts said. China will hold COP15 for the first time from October 11 to 24 in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province.

In the video call with Kerry, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that climate change cooperation cannot be separated from general China-US ties and urged the US to stop regarding China as a threat and opponent and suppressing China all over the world.

Although the UK always sides with the US on some political issues, the UK is far more pragmatic in its climate policy than the US, Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

He noted that the UK is more likely to be a "balancer" around huge powers if Downing Street is clear about the international situation.

Although Sharma's follow-up to Kerry's visit is considered a way to exert pressure on China on the climate issue, some experts said compared with the erratic US, the cooperation and consensus on climate issues between the UK, European countries and China is greater than disagreement.

China and the UK issued a joint statement on climate change in June 2014. The statement claims that both countries recognize the clear imperative to work together toward a global framework for ambitious climate change action. 

China and the UK will be supportive of each other in tackling climate change as the two countries demonstrate the same spirit in holding the COP15 and the COP26 in Southwest China's Yunnan Province and Britain's Glasgow, respectively, in October and November, said Wang Yiwei, director of the institute of international affairs at the Renmin University of China in Beijing. 

China will have a more positive attitude in joining hands with the UK as the two countries have more common ground than differences in tackling climate change, such as advocating the UN's emissions reduction target and emphasizing sustainable development, Wang told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The UK also won't be as "domineering" as the US in talks with China over climate change cooperation, which will be used as a way to improve its deteriorating relations with China and secure the Chinese market after Brexit, Wang said. 

Experts said that a main focus of climate cooperation is in the area of low-carbon energy. But this area, which is fundamentally technical, has been politicized by the US.  

"The US imposes restrictions on China in a wide range of technology areas on the one hand, while restricting Chinese products with non-market practices on the other… For example, restrictions on raw materials and products for solar panels in Xinjiang," Lü said. 

If the US really wants to talk about cooperation, it should focus on how to expand cooperation between scientists and companies and maintain fair competition, rather than technological protectionism, trade protectionism, and geopolitical factors, the expert said. 

"China and European countries reached quite a few agreements on climate change issues at the time Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement… European countries are not competing or even pressing China on climate issues, but pursuing their own interests," Lü said. 

Compared with the uncertainties of partisan politics in the US, European and the UK's climate policy and consensus are relatively stable, Lü said.