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Europe and China Take the Climate Reins

While it might be tempting to dismiss the recent commitments by China and the European Union to achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions within the next few decades, doing so would be a mistake. Both powers recognize that the future belongs to those who move quickly and decisively toward decarbonization.

PARIS – In the space of just a week during this year’s United Nations General Assembly, representatives of the world’s largest single market and the world’s second-largest economy each laid their climate cards on the table. One need not be a national-intelligence analyst to parse the results: the European Union and China have both committed to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, thus creating common ground for much deeper cooperation.

To be sure, these commitments will need to be backed by concrete policies. But even words carry power. Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is known for hyperbole or making major declarations without prior deliberation. If they set a concrete target, that means they have some sense of how to reach it.

Moreover, it is not as though it will be easy for the EU’s 27 member states to agree on a more ambitious 2030 target that is in line with its commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. European leaders are well aware of the many vested interests standing ready to oppose the new goal. Nor is it easy for China’s leadership to announce that it will hit peak emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. Reorienting an economy as large as China’s is no small task. Yet both powers recognize that the reality of climate change makes an economic transition inevitable, and that whoever moves first will have a major competitive advantage for decades to come.

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