Exclusive: UK and China must continue to stand together to help world meet climate commitments, says UK envoy
Published: Oct 16, 2021 08:55 PM Updated: Oct 16, 2021 04:55 PM
Caroline Wilson, UK ambassador to China. Photo: VCG

Caroline Wilson, UK ambassador to China. Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

At the COP15 in Kunming, Southwest China' Yunnan Province, China demonstrated a strong determination to work with other countries in protecting biodiversity, which is considered a new chapter in biodiversity conservation. The country's efforts of implementing a number of measures to protect and restore biodiversity were also widely hailed by foreign diplomats at the meeting. Global Times reporters Chen Qingqing and Zhang Hui interviewed Caroline Wilson, the British Ambassador to China, recently during the COP15, to talk about China's commitment and solutions to climate change, and potential areas where China and the UK could further strengthen cooperation in the future. As the host of COP26, the UK is also looking forward to this enhanced tie in delivering on promises on environment protection. 

GT: How would you evaluate China's new commitments in climate change and their implementation in the past year? What Chinese practices do you think can be adopted by other countries? 

Wilson: As one of the 12 mega-biodiverse countries in the world, China certainly has huge potential to provide global solutions to biodiversity loss, and has made great progress already. Over the past decade, China has established thousands of nature reserves and parks. I experienced first-hand on my bird-watching trip to Yeyahu Nature Reserve in Beijing - the second most biodiverse city among the G20 capitals where over 500 bird species live.  

However, no country can solve the biodiversity crisis on its own. International collaboration is important.

For years, the UK and China have been important partners in protecting biodiversity for all - for example, in December 2019, the UK supported a "human-wildlife coexistence" event in Jilin Province, benefiting the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park, by providing UK's expertise in protecting biodiversity.  

Biodiversity is also an increasingly important focus of UK Research and Innovation's joint portfolio with China. A bilateral program has developed sophisticated computer models to assess the potential damage of man-made climate change on biodiversity in regions of Southwest China and Southeast Asia upon which millions of livelihoods depend, with analysis ongoing in how best to mitigate the impact of climate change on species.

Since 2014, through the Forest Governance, Market and Climate Programme, we are working with a wide range of stakeholders in China to address the potential negative impacts arising from forest-related commodities such as timber, palm oil and rubber.

In Hainan, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has been working with its Chinese counterparts, Bawangling National Nature Reserve of Hainan Province, and Hainan University, since 2013 to collaborate on extensive conservation research. 

In Shanghai, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has worked in collaboration with National Nature Reserve on Chongming Island on the Spartina and Bird Habitat Optimisation Project to help create and protect wetland habitats.

GT: COP26 is going to be held in the UK at the end of the month, and the COP15 is held in Kunming, China's Yunnan Province. What expectations do you have on the agreement to be reached at the COP15?

Wilson:This conference comes at a really crucial time for humankind. Climate change and biodiversity loss are twin crises. Biodiversity is negatively affected by climate change, and biodiversity-rich habitats act as both carbon sinks and barriers against extreme weather. We can't tackle one without the other.

We hope to see an ambitious package of outcomes from COP15 that goes beyond agreement of new global biodiversity goals and targets but also puts in place elements needed to reduce and halt species extinction. 

The UK has a strong presence at COP15 with a delegation led by Lord Goldsmith, Minister for Pacific and the Environment. Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Helen Whateley will also attend, alongside former Governor of Bank of England Mark Carney and Professor Dasgupta from the University of Cambridge. 

It is an important year for international leadership on the global environment, with the UK hosting COP26 and China hosting COP15. The UK and China have a unique opportunity to work together to protect our planet, our economies, and our livelihoods. We are keen to work closely with China as the COP15 hosts to deliver these goals - we will play an active role in negotiations and use COP26 to deliver solutions that also support biodiversity, such as dealing with global deforestation and land-use change. 

GT: The UK and China are important partners in climate change and biodiversity. What collaborations do you think the UK and China should work more on? 

With the UK hosting COP26 and China hosting COP15, the UK and China have a unique opportunity to work together to protect our planet, our economies, and our livelihoods. Actually, the UK and China hold long standing collaborations on biodiversity protection and tackling climate change, as I outlined in the first question.

The UK wants to work with China to build on this legacy. For example, we look forward to working with China even more closely on the impacts of forest-related commodities. We also hope to continue constructive collaboration between producer and consumer countries to tackle deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Both our countries have a lot of expertise to share on biodiversity protection, technological innovation, and green finance, to name a few. We are open to working closely with China, particularly as you develop the tools and frameworks needed to meet the 2030 and 2060 targets. 

The Scottish Government has been leading the "Edinburgh Process" of engagement with subnational and local governments to develop the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). I. To date, over 180 subnational and local governments have signed the Edinburgh Declaration, which sets out the commitments for the next 10 years. We hope local governments in China could sign the Declaration to achieve the ambitious GBF goal.

China and the UK must continue to stand together as we support partners around the world in meeting their climate commitments, whilst leading by example on decarbonizing our own economies, making our air cleaner, and reducing reliance on coal. 

GT: Investment and collaboration in energy have been  important areas of the UK-China collaboration. Many international organizations have encouraged more investment in clean energy in emerging markets and developing economies. What UK-China collaboration should be strengthened in this area? What role do you think China's solutions could play in the UK's energy structure transition?

As we recover from the coronavirus disease pandemic, it is essential that we build back better, and to base our recovery on solid foundations, including a greener and more resilient global economy. Our path to a zero carbon economy must also be fair and inclusive and create the global resilience we need to fight climate change. 

The next decade will be make or break for our planet and the most powerful way we can make a difference is to end our reliance on coal. 

There are strong economic arguments for moving now: to avoid burdening our future generations with the costs of early inaction; to help manage risks, such as those from increasing and fluctuating fossil fuel prices; to increase resilience to the impacts of climate change; and to seize the opportunities from new and emerging markets. 

However, there remain important barriers. Developing countries seeking to increase their use of renewables often face high capital costs and need support to access finance. Coal-intensive economies also need support to overcome the technical and institutional lock-in of existing coal power, including the social challenge of winding down coal mining and transitioning coal-dependent regions.

Over the last decade, the UK and China have built a strong bilateral energy relationship - supported by our Clean Energy Partnership and annual Ministerial Energy Dialogue. 

The UK and China have worked together to drive down the costs of clean energy technologies worldwide and worked together to support our domestic energy transitions. 

This has covered a range of sectors and supported engagement across all levels of society, bringing together policymakers, regulators, academics, and industry leaders, to help share best practice and support deeper collaboration.  

As agreed during the 7th UK-China Ministerial Energy Dialogue held on 11 October, there is scope for deeper cooperation between the UK and China in priority clean energy technologies. This includes joint cooperation in third markets to support an accelerated global transition to clean energy. The DIT-NDRC MoU on Third-Party Market Cooperation signed in 2019 provides a framework to take forward this collaboration.

As hosts of COP26, the UK has also launched the Energy Transition Council to bring together the political, financial and technical leaders of the global power sector to work together to accelerate the transition from coal to clean power. China is very welcome to join this Council, to share China's expertise and support the delivery of fast-acting technical assistance to developing countries involved in the Council.  

GT: You expressed in Bo'ao that UK and China should continue their leadership in climate change and biodiversity. The UK has committed to doubling its International Climate Finance contribution to 11.6 billion pounds, with a focus on nature based solutions. Besides, the UK's Blue Belt Program helps protect the world's marine environment from human threats, including plastics. The UK has launched the new International Biodiversity Fund with an initial investment of 220 million pounds. What UK-China collaborations do we expect in green finance?

Wilson: Green Finance is one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of global finance and, despite intense competition, the UK is leading the way.

We will work to increase funding for low-carbon resilient investments whilst also improving access to finance in developing countries. The UK's international climate finance has already supported over 100 countries and is helping to reduce or avoid a total of 16 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That is equivalent to taking 3.3 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year.

The UK and China have had a long-standing partnership on green finance since 2015, supported by the Vice-Premier level UK China Economic and Financial Dialogue. On the 10th "Dialogue" the UK and China reiterated their recognition of each other as their primary partner in green finance, for capital raising, product innovation, and thought leadership. 

In August 2020, the UK committed to doubling international climate finance to help developing countries respond to climate change. As part of this, the British Embassy in Beijing has a flagship green finance program in China - UK Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions (PACT) - which supports UK-China green finance partnership, and the post-COVID-19 green recovery. The program has already funded eight projects in China over the past two years.

The UK recently announced mandatory disclosures of climate related risks, in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations, for the majority of the economy by 2025; we encourage China to announce a similar goal, to empower its climate transition and ensure carbon neutrality goals are met. The UK will also be issuing green sovereign bonds.

GT: Both the UK and China have ambitious climate targets. Climate negotiation is at the core of COP26. What agreement on the global carbon market do you think countries including the UK and China will reach at COP26? 

Wilson: At COP26 we must finalize the outstanding technical elements of the Paris Agreement, such as finding solutions on carbon markets and transparent reporting. We are accelerating collaboration between governments, business, and civil society to deliver on our climate goals faster.  

This means bringing businesses and civil society on board, behind our COP26 goals, and building up international collaboration in critical sectors. Working through multilateral platforms and with developing countries to ensure all needs are met.

GT: COP26 will discuss the acceleration of the market transition of electric vehicles and the UK government's commitment on zero emission by 2050. China is a major country manufacturing electronic automobiles. What role do you think Chinese companies could play in helping the UK meet the target of zero emissions?

Wilson: If we are to meet Paris Agreement goals, we need to double the pace of the global transition to zero emission vehicles. 

Following consultation, the British Prime Minister announced the ambitious date of 2030 for phasing out all new petrol and diesel cars and vans. Furthermore, from 2035, all new cars and vans sold in the UK will be fully zero emission vehicles.

Bringing forward the phase-out date for all new cars and vans will reduce greenhouse gas emissions faster. It also puts the UK at the leading edge of the global transition with electric vehicles. 

This new ambition is backed by a 2.8 billion pound package of measures to support industry and consumers to make the switch to cleaner vehicles. A detailed delivery plan will be published soon to stimulate both supply and demand for EVs.  

If countries work together, and with business, to align their targets and actions, we multiply our impact numerous times. Making the transition to clean vehicles cheaper, faster, and easier for us all.

That is why the UK's COP26 Presidency has been working with countries and businesses around the world, to convene some of the world's largest automotive markets and vehicle manufacturers in our COP26 Zero Emissions Vehicle Transition Council, to accelerate the move to clean vehicles. We welcome China in joining the Council's discussions. 

Given the role a transition to zero emission vehicles will play in reaching wider climate goals, and UK-China leadership in this sector, our cooperation on zero emission vehicles is vitally important. 

The UK has been working closely with Chinese organizations to support low carbon transition of the transport sector. We enjoy strong commercial cooperation in this sector as well. Chinese auto companies, including Geely, BYD, and most recently Envision AESC, have chosen the UK to set up their R&D centers, manufacturing facilities, and gigafactory to develop the next generation of products and technology.

I expect this cooperation to remain strong in the future, evidenced by the recent MOU signing between China Automotive Technology and Research Centre (CATARC), the UK's Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) and the University of California, to set up a China-US-UK ZEV Policy Lab, which will strengthen exchanges and cooperation on zero emission vehicles between the three countries. 

GT: COP15 will discuss the post 2020 global biodiversity framework. The Aichi Target was not met by many countries. What do you think the main reasons are? What areas do you think the UK and China could strengthen collaboration to support the world to meet the post 2020 framework targets?

Wilson: Many countries lack the capacity and resources to implement the previous biodiversity targets. To achieve success in the next 10 years we need to move beyond a set of goals to a package of measures that supports implementation and requires accountability from countries, as well as measuring results. 

The funding gap for biodiversity is the equivalent to the GDP of Switzerland and we need increased funding from all sources. But for any of this to work we need to stop investments and subsidies that harm biodiversity.

We are pleased to hear Chinese President Xi Jinping's announcement of increasing funding for biodiversity and we look forward to working with China to understand more about how the Kunming Biodiversity Fund will be administered. Our government recently commissioned an independent report on the economics of biodiversity, led by British economist Partha Dasgupta and supported by an expert global panel including Professor Justin Lin from Peking University. 

This report provides recommendations to ensure decision makers from all sectors can properly account for the value of nature and take steps to ensure a more sustainable relationship. We hope we can continue to work with China on this.