China, EU setting good example in tackling climate change

Editor's Note:

China and the EU, important partners in combating global climate change, face similar opportunities and challenges in decarburization and have much to learn from each other in designing their long-term strategies.

The Global Times (GT) talked with Artur Runge-Metzger (Runge-Metzger), director, Directorate-General of Climate Action, European Commission over some latest concerns with climate change.

GT: The EU aims to achieve the target of having 20 percent of energy generated from renewables by 2020. Yet more than half of all the EU countries still have to work towards renewable energy targets, and despite its ambitions, France still has a long way to go to reach the target. What do you think are the biggest challenges in order to reach this goal?

Runge-Metzger: Overall, the EU is ahead of schedule in achieving its renewables target. If you look at the individual member states, 11 states have already exceeded the target for the year 2020. But you have also rightly observed that some member states - three of them - are slightly below the trajectory and France is one of them. The challenges the countries are facing include the integration of renewable energy into the larger grid and in some countries it has gone smoothly and in some countries it is more difficult. But I am confident that France will also overcome this, because many of the technical solutions have been worked out in the last five to 10 years, so they are already on track with the schedule. 

Maybe I should also mention where we stand on our climate target and how we are ahead of the curve. Our emissions were down by 22 percent in 1990, and since then the GDP has grown by 58 percent. There is a clear sense of decoupling that is taking place as we move forward into the future. Furthermore, we now have our legislation in place to achieve our Paris promise of at least 40 percent. Member states are presenting their plans about how they want to implement this goal and we will be looking at this in the coming month.

GT: Although the global capacity of renewable energy will increase significantly in the next five years, the proportion of renewable energy in terms of the total global energy is still too low to meet the long-term climate change and sustainable development goals. What do you think are the greatest obstacles to the development of global renewable energy?

Runge-Metzger: We know that we need to have a vast increase in the uptake of renewables and the good thing is that all the investment numbers over the last year showed that there was an overall uptake and there was an increasing uptake of renewable energy particularly in wind power and solar power. Maybe it could happen faster, but there are some intrinsic challenges with renewables. For example, how you integrate them into a grid is not an easy task. If you don't do it in the right manner, you will have the issue of curtailment, which means you produce energy but these renewables are unable to be utilized well. These are the things that we will have to develop and devote our time to. The second issue is the financing. The cost of finance is, in some countries, very high. We need to find financing models to provide money under the right circumstances to move ahead. Many of the renewables are expensive when it comes to construction even though the running costs are very low. It's very important to overcome the cash flow problem in the beginning. On the EU side, we are trying to collaborate on renewables with many countries particularly through the use of financial instruments and the European Investment Bank.

GT: Fossil fuels are an ecological emergency that must be eradicated. Yet for the developing countries, whose economy and society are not ready for the transformation to green energy, is it right for the developed countries that have passed the early stages of industrial development to ask developing countries to take more responsibility for climate change?

Runge-Metzger: It's a very sensitive issue. It is clear that all countries have their responsibilities and capabilities in terms of what they can contribute. The interesting thing is when we look at what type of energy countries want to deploy, many of the developing countries are trying actively to promote renewable energy, because in many circumstances, renewable energy is the cheapest source of energy. If you look at the remote areas in Africa and Asia, off-grid power is best being produced by solar or wind energy and therefore we see such a big increase in the uptake rates of renewable energy. Renewable energy use is even helping the development of these countries and maintaining good air quality. Industrialization comes with air quality issues and the only way of dealing with that is to clean up the economie