EU-China energy cooperation benefits economies and societies


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Megan Richards

Director of Energy Policy in DG Energy (ENER) at the European Commission

Megan Richards is Director of Energy Policy in DG Energy (ENER) at the European Commission

The EU-China energy partnership focuses on ensuring that both our economies and our citizens benefit from the clean energy transition and that the common goals of the Paris Agreement are met. Given our sizable economies, we must be conscious that our actions have worldwide impact. The European Union’s global leadership in the clean energy transition and its progressive regulatory framework are of particular interest in this context.

Both China and the EU are highly dependent on imports of fossil energy sources, representing approximately 22% and 12.5% of global energy consumption respectively. We face many similar challenges, whether they be reflected in the pursuit of energy security, the improvement of energy efficiency or the use of renewable energy.

China is the world’s largest importer of oil and accounts for around half of global coal production and consumption. But growth in Chinese energy demand has slowed down in recent years, from an annual average of 8% between 2000 and 2010, to less than 3% annually since 2010. Such changes reflect structural shifts in the economy and demonstrate a shift towards a more policy-oriented focus on energy efficiency. In parallel, coal and oil – the heavyweights of the fossil fuel industry – are slowly being replaced by more environmentally friendly sources of energy. Nevertheless, China continues to depend heavily on coal-fired power plants, therefore illustrating the challenges that still lie ahead.

Given our sizable economies, we must be conscious that our actions have worldwide impact

Collaboration between the EU and China on energy has been increasing over recent years. In 2016, an EU-China Roadmap on Energy Cooperation was signed and the annual high-level EU-China Energy Dialogue, at ministerial level, was re-started in 2017. The result has been a positive political sign for stronger technical cooperation, which could tackle, among other issues, the market access barriers that threaten European energy companies in China. The Roadmap establishes an EU-China Energy Cooperation Platform to support energy cooperation in the coming years and encourages regulatory reform to facilitate the clean energy transition in China, which will also be of benefit to the EU.

In line with the EU’s clean energy objectives, the implementation of the Roadmap focuses on energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, energy system planning, energy targets and energy markets. Moreover, it remains crucial to the EU that the European businesses engaged in developing and providing clean energy solutions can offer their services and products in China to enable this energy transition. Our cooperation addresses improved reciprocal opportunities and reduces barriers for innovative firms in the energy sector.

Another important area of EU-China energy cooperation is the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), where the EU and China participate in the international consortium building the experimental facility in the south of France. For both the EU and China, this represents a key forward-looking clean energy technology project that is deserving of sustained support. Fusion has the potential to provide a sustainable solution to global energy needs. Once completed, ITER will be the largest fusion device to produce energy and will stand as one of the most ambitious long-term energy projects in the world today.

The EU and China are working together in international energy fora such as the Clean Energy Ministerial, Mission Innovation and the G20 talks on energy. It is clear that collaboration on multilateral energy issues offers benefits to both sides, therefore representing an important part of our continued energy relations.

Fusion has the potential to provide a sustainable solution to global energy needs

European Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete visited in China in the first week of November and took stock of the state of play of our mutual energy and climate relations, in order to prepare for the December COP24 international climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland. In July of this year, at the China-EU Summit in Beijing, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang endorsed the “Leaders’ Statement on Climate Change and Clean Energy”, underlining our commitment to cooperation on energy and climate change issues and calling for steps to deepen the relationship.

Before the COP24 conference, the European Commission expects to adopt a Communication on its vision for a long-term strategy on reducing EU greenhouse gas emissions and developing a path towards the decarbonisation of the European economy. We hope that this will inspire our worldwide energy partners to adopt similar ambitious strategies for modernising their economies and to join in on the global efforts to ensure a sustainable future for our planet.

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