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EF China COP27 Pavilion Reflects on China’s Role in Accelerating Global Climate Solutions and Calls for More Cooperation

Energy Foundation China (EF China) hosted a two-day pavilion on the sidelines of the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The pavilion facilitated the exchange of ideas and community building between China and the world after a hiatus of nearly three years without in person meetings. The November 14–15 event featured academic, government, business, and civil society leaders in climate and clean energy fields, covering priority topics such as subnational engagement, the role of electrification in China’s long-term decarbonization, strategic communications, China-international Track II dialogue, coal-to-renewables transition, methane, and more. Highlights of the sessions are as follows:

EF China opened its COP27 pavilion with a subnational action session. As implementers of decarbonization actions on the ground, subnational entities are a key focus in the global fight against the climate crisis. The impacts of subnational actions are often felt across boundaries. What China’s provinces and cities do is critical for achieving the country’s climate goals and keeping the global 1.5-degee target within reach.

After hearing four case studies of changes on the ground, including manufacturing province Shandong’s practice of transitioning its carbon intensive industries such as papermaking, a Shanxi village’s effort to deploy a novel solar building system, and experiences from Beijing and Shanghai in making people’s life at home more comfortable, Zhu Xiaoming, President of the Yangtze River Delta Carbon Neutrality Strategy Development Institute at Southeast University, said that she believed work toward carbon neutrality needs to be carried out by the whole society and with a market-based approach. Liu Qiang, Deputy Chief Representative for China at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, said that subnational work should be conducted systematically, including ensuring a just transition. Other panelists also emphasized community engagement. “Implementation is really about engaging local stakeholders,” said Peter Graham, President of the Global Building Performance Network. “We have to now start to empower the local coalitions, because they are the people who are going to be there for the long term.” Qiao Feng of Vanke Foundation in Shenzhen highlighted the capacity building of grassroots NGOs and community-level carbon mitigations.

Later in the day, at the communications session, speakers shared how to steer narrative building and public engagement to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. “The narrative should be, the implementation of carbon neutrality strategies will not damage our economy; rather, it will be a new driver of our future economic growth,” said Zou Ji, CEO and President of Energy Foundation China.

EF China’s Strategic Communications Director Jing Hui shared a study on how the narrative of energy security and energy transition evolves in the Chinese media. In the eyes of Yu Lan, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of China News Service, change will take place only if we draw lessons from the old industrialization model of “pollute first, clean later,” only if we transform the industry structure and the energy mix fundamentally, and only if we protect the environment and resources effectively, and with real actions. According to Aarti Khosla, Asia Network Director at the Global Strategic Communications Council, climate communications professionals should ensure some degree of “alignment and communications” between what happens inside and outside China. Sharing her research about China-Africa climate narrative, Maureen Heydt, Assistant Director for Communications and Outreach at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center, said that many of the perceptions about China’s energy investment in Africa are not accurate. She also believed communications professionals must come up with “more solutions-oriented” messages and think about how to use “more positive narratives” around the energy transition. The speakers and panelists also described the importance of public participation in climate communications, including Tian Chengchuan, Director of China’s Center for Environmental Education and Communications, who said China needs to incorporate low carbon knowledge into public education. At the end of the session, Zeng Fanxu, Communications Professor at Tsinghua University, and Amiera Sawas, Director of Programs and Research at Climate Outreach, shared their observations on how to talk climate with diverse people in China and Europe respectively.

On the same day when the presidents of China and the U.S. met in person in Indonesia with a tone of engagement, many experts called for more international climate cooperation. Rounding out day 1, lead authors from research institutions of both countries presented their findings of a synthesis electrification report for a carbon neutral China. A collaboration of nine leading research and modeling teams, this report dives into the role of electrification and the associated electricity system transformation in achieving China’s carbon neutrality goals, and identifies sectoral near-term actions and long-term strategies that reflect technology availability, regional disparity, and economic costs. Nate Hultman, Director of the Center for Global Sustainability at University of Maryland, said, “I very much hope that the spirit of joint work that went into this report will continue and expand…”

His message found an echo at the Track II dialogues and coal-to-renewables transition sessions on the following day.

Zhang Hongjun, EF China Board Chair, said at the Track II session that he hoped future dialogues would be broadened to include those between media, subnational, business, and finance actors. Wang Yi, Vice Chair of China’s National Expert Panel on Climate Change, said multilateral, bilateral, and technical cooperation were very important. Ana Toni, Executive Director for the Instituto Clima e Sociedade in Brazil, said the incoming administration of her country believes in multinationalism, South-South collaboration, and climate as a development issue. Liu Hongpeng, Director of Energy Division at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, believed China can play an important role in the region’s climate actions through South-South cooperation.

Green finance was a core issue in many of the speeches and panel discussions. Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, called for fixing the global financial system to resolve properly the achievement of climate development goals. Lei Hongpeng, Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, said finance and industrial transition are among the priorities of climate actions. The session concluded with a question raised by the panelists about the disconnect between fabulous announcements of progressive actions and the reality. They agreed countries should “take delivery and scaling up seriously,” as Nick Mabey, Founder and CEO of E3G, put it.

Later, at the coal-to-renewables session, Jessica Gordon, Senior Climate Policy Fellow at the California-China Climate Institute, noted that there is “definitely, absolutely” room for learning lessons between the U.S. and China. Panelists from China and Europe were challenged with the question of whether the global phase-out of coal can still happen at the scale and pace needed to reach the Paris Agreement targets, amid a far-reaching energy crisis. Li Ting, Regional Managing Director for China at the Rocky Mountain Institute, said she was “super optimistic” due to strong policy guidance and ambitious targets for renewables, more mature zero carbon power solutions, and a “highly possible” national power market in China by 2030. Sun Xiansheng, Vice President of the China Council for International Investment Promotion, expressed his confidence too, though he said it would take time. James Henderson, Director of Energy Transition Research at Oxford, painted a less optimistic prospect for the medium term, saying it would need “negative emissions at some point to bring us back within the range of the 1.5 to 2-degree targets,” but also thought it is possible to see an acceleration beyond 2030. When commenting on the Inflation Reduction Act, Anand Gopal, Executive Director for Policy Research at Energy Innovation, said his institution’s analysis showed that the act would help the U.S. phase out coal-fired power by 2032; while Liu Yiyang, Deputy Secretary General of China PV Industry Association worried the act might bring uncertainties to the industry he presented.

To close the two-day event, EF China invited experts and partners to raise a toast at its COP27 drinks reception in the evening of November 15.


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