EU climate chief hails China talks, despite concerns over coal

The European Union’s climate chief said Thursday that he had held “very good and open conversations” with Chinese counterparts, despite unease in Brussels about expanding coal capacity in the world’s number-two economy.

Wopke Hoekstra, who will represent the EU in closely watched negotiations at the COP28 climate summit later this month in the UAE, said that any country building more coal capacity was a matter of concern.

China is the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases driving climate change, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), and Chinese leaders this year gave the green light for building more coal-fired plants.

“Even though we know at times of scarcity you might need to scale up a bit, that is a far cry from building new coal capacity,” said Hoekstra, speaking to reporters at the end of an official visit to Beijing.

“That is of course something we would rather not see and about which we are critical,” the recently appointed EU commissioner for climate matters added.

He said that he had raised the issue in his meetings in China this week.

China relied on coal for nearly 60 percent of its electricity last year.

Greenpeace said in April that China had approved a major surge in coal power in early 2023, accusing it of prioritising energy supply over its pledge to reduce emissions from fossil fuels.

The jump in approvals for coal-fired power plants has added to concerns that China will backtrack on its goals to peak emissions between 2026 and 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2060.

China’s emissions pledges are seen as essential to keeping the average global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius.

Speaking of a joint statement issued Tuesday by China and its geopolitical rival the United States — another top emitter — the EU climate chief offered tempered praise.

“Is more ambition necessary? Absolutely. But now let’s also take the glass for half-full. This was not necessarily in the stars half a year ago,” said Hoekstra.

“It does put a bit of a floor into where we can be going from now towards the COP.”

Hoekstra also spoke in Beijing Thursday about his bloc’s efforts to cooperate with China on methane — another leading pollutant that contributes to climate change.

“If I look at the information we now have from the Chinese side, it is qualitative, and I would be very interested in the quantitative side of it as well,” said Hoekstra, speaking of recent pledges by Beijing to reduce methane emissions that have been criticised by some observers as too vague.

“It would be great to make it more concrete.” — Agence France-Presse

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