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China-EU Partnership to Inject Vigor to Global Green Recovery
20 Jul, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in unexpected huge shock on the global economy. With the pandemic being gradually under control, the governments are working on economic stimulus package, with a view to bring the economic order back on track as soon as possible. 

There are clear connections between COVID-19 and the climate crisis. For starters, climate change increases the likelihood of COVID-type pandemics — through changes in the habitats of disease vectors, for example, or increased inter-species contact resulting from deforestation.

More importantly, it vastly increases the likelihood of cascading disasters. In the case of COVID-19, health impacts won’t stop at infection itself, but will be amplified by broad economic and social fallout.

The solution to the post-pandemic recovery?

“The pandemic is reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and planet. Any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change, that is making our Earth less habitable.” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the 73rd World Health Assembly. 

The COVID-19 crisis has brought huge impact on the whole world: hundreds of thousands of people died, the world economy is facing a more severe recession than what happened in 2008. This will lead to higher unemployment rate and income reduction that may cause damage on livelihood, health and sustainable development. 

The top priority the countries have to work on is recovery. To promote a green, low-carbon global economic recovery will drive both the reasonable use of public resources and a full improvement of climate resilience, and it will help achieve the dual goals of economic recovery and sustainable development. 

The coronavirus pandemic arrived in what had been billed as a banner year for climate action. At the start of this crucial decade, 2020 was due to see a round of ambition-raising under the Paris Agreement followed by a review of progress at the annual COP26 UN climate talks.

Now, those talks have been postponed for a year and in place of the expected shuttle diplomacy around ambition-raising and national climate targets, attention is focused on saving 

lives and rescuing stuttering economies, in the midst of the world’s worst recession since the 1930s.

Green recovery as a consensus of the post-pandemic world-building 

UN and the related international institutions have been calling for a green and low-carbon recovery since March 2020. This initiative aims for not only the local economic recovery but also a sounder, more resilient and sustainable world. 

Globally, government stimuluses had already reached “$15tn and counting” by early May, according to Reuters. In early June, Bloomberg put the total at $12tn, of which it said less than 0.2% had been targeted towards climate priorities.

A survey joined by finance ministers of G20, several governors of central banks and leading scholars on the economic stimulus policies carried out by governments was recently released on Oxford Review of Economic Policy. It indicates that a majority of them believe that the financial stimulus program should take into account climate change and green economic transformation. There are also economists who called upon to introduce green recovery policies for clean energy technology research, infrastructure-building and zero-carbon transportation, etc.

China-EU partnership as the driving force for global green recovery

The European Commission has announced its plan for a €750bn ($848bn) “Next Generation EU” recovery fund, which is split into €500bn ($565bn) of grants for member states and €250bn ($283bn) of loans. This remains a proposal and has yet to be agreed by the European Council or parliament.

President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that the plan would focus not only on supporting coronavirus recovery, but also “investing in our future” via the European Green Deal, which the commission says should become a “job-creating engine”.

The proposal states all spending would be guided by a “sustainable finance taxonomy” and “the green oath to ‘do no harm’”. While, in principle, this should exclude investments in high-polluting infrastructure, environmental groups say the proposal could still include fossil-fuel spending.

In its announcement on the recovery plan, the commission said 25% of the EU budget would be reserved for climate action, sticking with the principle agreed to in its original budget. However, it is still unclear whether this would apply to all of the €750bn in the proposed recovery package.

The draft plan involves key investment themes like less use of fossil energy, increase of renewable energy power generation and hydrogen energy development and similar low-carbon energy projects, as well as building renovation, renewable energy and hydrogen energy and clean transport. 

China, as the most important global economic growth-driving engine, has expressed its full support to green recovery, too. 

China’s economic stimulus measures are receiving close attention, not just because of the impact of its huge economy on the global economy, but also because of its effects on global carbon emissions.

In the Government Work Report 2020 at Two Sessions this year, the government highlighted that we should adhere to the new development philosophy, the supply-side structural reform as the main task, and the high-quality development, and should promote manufacturing upgrading and development of emerging industries, which sets the basic tone of China’s green recovery. 

Chinese government has been presenting a series of packages meant to fully sustain the development of “green projects” in China with the full intent to support its green recovery. One focus has been on boosting the issuance of special bonds by local governments. These are used to overcome shortages of funding for specific projects, stimulating economic growth by leveraging investments and promoting infrastructure construction.

The Ministry of Finance has issued new bond quotas for local governments three times this year. An additional 1.1 trillion yuan (US$155 billion) in quotas were assigned in the first quarter, with a further 1 trillion yuan brought forward to April. By the end of June, local special bonds worth 2.29 trillion yuan are expected to have been issued – approaching the 2.59 trillion total for 2019. 

Another major focus will be on urban sustainable development. China plans to renovate twice as many old residential communities this year to improve living conditions, spur investment and shore up economic growth.

The State Council said after its executive meeting on April 14, 2020 that the country plans to renovate 39,000 aging urban residential communities this year-double last year's target-to benefit 7 million households.

The renovation projects will prioritize communities built before 2000, focus on improving supporting facilities and civic infrastructure, and improve the level of public services in communities such as aged care, infant day care and healthcare.

Funds raised by local governments through the issuance of special bonds will give priority to the projects, and private capital will be given incentives to play a role in order to support a fruitful cooperation between the public and business sector.

China-EU long-lasting international cooperation

With increasing inter-connection between Europe and China, the partnership of the two sides are expanding and have covered various areas including politics, economy, finance, science, education and culture. On May 6, 2020, the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the EU, Nicolas Chapuis, Ambassador of the European Union to China, and the Ambassadors to China of the 27 EU Member States jointly released a statement that a close partnership between China and the EU is key in making global climate efforts successful, revitalizing global economy and promoting green recovery. 

As stated by multiple leaders and experts, green recovery is directly linked to net-zero carbon goal and circular economy; the new recovery should focus its attention towards: better buildings, better access to green finance, smart mobility, greening our cities and more resilient infrastructure.

As one of the key pragmatic cooperation projects under the framework of the “EU-China Urbanization Partnership”, EC-LINK project has been committed to providing solutions to the sustainable development of cities in China and Europe (http://www.eclink.org/eclink/en/frontpage ).As green recovery has becoming a major theme of global development, EC-LINK project is compiling a number of instructive guidance and suggestions for compact urban development, green buildings, green transport, water management, solid waste management, clean energy and municipal finance and other sectors for green recovery, and this will not only help inject vigor to global low-carbon and sustainable urban development and green recovery, but also offer valuable practice and experience to other economies. 

The EC-Link Project has been supporting the dialogue among European and Chinese cities, experts and private companies. Indeed, city-to-city cooperation is one mechanism in which climate policies are developed, transferred and learned between cities. However, the process of transfer of urban climate policies and sustainability in bilateral cooperation that embeds knowledge gaps and different political contexts is under-researched.

(http://www.eclink.org/eclink/en/sectors/about)

For many years, EC-Link Project has been supporting European and Chinese stakeholders in covering such knowledge gaps through the development of multiple city green projects, 

organization of many technical visits and study tour, the development of a series of technical papers focusing in sustaining the improvement of sustainable urban development in China.