Category: Events-reports

Policy Brief – Hydrogen, a new commodity, a ‘magic’ energy carrier, or a prescriber of demanding public policies?

By Antoine Goutaland and Joël Ruet

“Hydrogen” is seeing its industrial and energy uses differ while its synthesis processes abound. But in reality, there are hydrogens whose promoters constitute a heterogeneous club with more or less convergent interests, present at different geographical, sectoral and temporal levels. A unified and stabilised ecosystem does not exist at this stage, and due to the characteristics of the molecule, we defend that this unique and global ecosystem will not be emerge.

Green hydrogen remains a decisive tool for the energy transition. It has the capacity to better store, use, and valorise renewables, and, more generally, offers an additional flexibility option to the great energy systemic overhaul necessary for the ecological transition.

At present, the World Hydrogen Council has an interest in showing a united front to policy makers, in order to broaden the base of what has not, so far, really been a “sector”. But behind this homogeneous ‘narrative’, industrial and political battles are being fought.

Hydrogen will contribute to the slow change in perspective of ecology: in parallel with the systemic question of transitions and trajectories, there will be a return, not of the micro-economic question (price formation on markets), but rather of the macro-economic policy of natural resources, an all-encompassing problem, going from a national accounting of resources to a geostrategy of resources.

Read the Full Brief (in French): 2021-07-07-PB_Hydrogene

 

Key points

  • Hydrogen is not a commodity and will probably not become one. However, this by-product can play a key role in the decarbonization of certain heavy industries or energy uses.
  • Hydrogen is not oil, therefore the previous economic model of this sector is not necessarily adapted to hydrogen. It is consequently necessary to question the assumptions and cognitive habits acquired, as well as to objectively analyse the accelerators at hand, and in particular the territories, that are determining factors.
  • Hydrogen opens the Pandora’s box of the industrial economy: are forced technological oligopolies coming? Will they overlap or will they transcend geopolitical competition? Will certain coal basins impose themselves by a sort of return of history? Will industrial parks turn demand to their advantage?
  • The electrification of the world, mobilizing hydrogen, and associated with “natural” uses of hydrogen where electrification is not relevant, is compatible with an explosion of energy transformations, alongside a decrease in CO2 emi

4th Nanjing/Paris Forum on innovation: towards state-regulated technological partnerships?

On Thursday the 24th of June 2021, the Nanjing/Paris Innovation Partnership and the 4th Sino-French Innovation Cooperation Conference was held in Nanjing, China within the context of Nanjing Techweek 2021. The forum aims at deepening strategic partnerships between China and France through the cities of Nanjing and Paris, with a particular emphasis on scientific and technological innovation and development.

Attended by hundreds in person and broadcast live online, the Nanjing/Paris forum hosted notable guests from both China and France. On the Chinese side, speakers included: Li Shigui, Member of the Standing Committee of the Municipal Party Committee, Deputy Director of the Standing Committee of the Municipal People’s Congress and Secretary of the Jiangning District Party Committee and Shen Xiang, Minister of Economic and Commercial Affairs of the Chinese Embassy in France and Lu Qingjiang, Consul General of the Chinese Consulate General in Lyon.

On the French side, Dominique Villepin, minister of foreign affairs, outlined the importance of maintaining and developing this relation in order to further develop the energy, scientific and technology sectors within France, such as the recent development of French Chinese entrepreneurial clubs supported by the municipality of Nanjing. De Villepin was accompanied by the economist Pascal Petit, Director of the French National Center for Scientific Research who spoke on the necessity of a more opened policy with regards to innovation of new models between the two countries, and by Joël Ruet, president of The Bridge Tank.

Our president, Joël Ruet, also spoke at the event, elaborating on three main points:  

– first, drawing the lessons from the history of technological cooperation between China and France, particularly within nuclear and energy sectors, today ending their cycles,

– second, the need to build on these past cooperation’s through the expansion of research frontiers and dialogue, for instance on fast breeding nuclear reactors or urban environmental services,

– third, focusing on new energies like hydrogen, which would be highly beneficial for France’s technology systems and industry.

Joël Ruet put his speech in the context of growing technological rivalries, arguing that both parties should clearly delineate those technologies where open cooperation is possible from those that ought to be regulated by strict state protocols.

 In the subsequent remote interaction session between the Paris session and Nanjing Sino-French Collaborative Innovation Center, more than ten Chinese and French business leaders made corporate presentations and exchanges.

  An online signing ceremony of Sino-French technology projects and innovation platforms also took place alongside the forum, with keynote speeches by Chinese and French invited guests and a roundtable forum on science and technology innovation.

This forum, bringing together a wide range of experts in varying fields, from economics to technology, finance and academia, adopted a “cloud + offline” model to structure the conference, aims to become a platform of open innovation, cooperation and sharing between France and China, in order to promote mutually beneficial development. The topics touched on over the course of the forum included but were not limited to: automotive, artificial intelligence, medicine and health, energy saving and environmental protection.

EU-US Summit : towards a new transatlantic partnership ?

“America is back” and the Trump years are behind us, as evidenced by the holding of the EU-United States summit in Brussels on June 15, 2021: being the first meeting of this type since 2017, it marked the launch of a renewed partnership and a joint program for cooperation between the EU and the United States, following a sectoral approach. This meeting notably enabled three major commercial achievements to revive and deepen transatlantic trade in a context of Sino-American tensions.

 Civil aircraft cooperation agreement closes 17-year dispute

Leaders Joe Biden, Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, have committed to creating a cooperative framework for large civil aircraft, taking a major step toward ending the dispute over the sector. After 17 years of dispute between Brussels and Washington before the WTO, this agreement initiates a new transatlantic relationship in the aeronautics sector. At the root of the dispute: illegal subsidies granted to aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. Under the Trump administration, tensions were exacerbated and the WTO authorized the imposition of taxes on $7.5 billion worth of imported European goods and services, including 25% on wine and 15% on Airbus aircraft. 

At the end of the summit, the leaders announced the suspension of punitive tariffs imposed on each other, as part of a five-year truce. The resolution of this dispute, which has plagued bilateral relations, is a strong signal that the Biden administration is moving toward a rapprochement that will create a level playing field and address new industrial challenges. 

This search for appeasement reflects an attempt to bring the EU on board in the US tug-of-war with China by strengthening the U.S.-European position. Especially since this former duopoly of aircraft manufacturers is now becoming an oligopoly with the entry of the new Chinese player Comac. This common-sense measure therefore also has the potential to counter the Chinese breakthrough in this sector and to challenge China’s perceived unfair competition practices. The idea is also to set up an effective cooperation model to jointly address other challenges posed by China’s economic model. While it is not certain that a compromise will be reached at the end of this truce, there is a real American will to reach an agreement. Indeed, when the dispute began in 2004, Airbus was gaining ground on the international market to the detriment of Boeing, whereas today the threat comes from China and it is time for unity on both sides of the Atlantic.

Negotiations to resolve steel and aluminum dispute underway

Leaders agreed to begin discussions to resolve the steel and aluminum trade dispute and to lift all additional and punitive tariffs by the end of the year. Ursula von der Leyen announced a working group on this issue that has marred transatlantic relations since Donald Trump announced in 2018 the imposition of taxes of 25% on European steel imports and 10% on aluminum imports, provoking European countermeasures in return. 

Lifting these taxes in the spirit of appeasement that prevails today would be a much-awaited political gesture by the EU, which expects strong actions beyond intentions. However, this diplomatic gesture should not change the face of European trade, nor turn the European steel and aluminum market upside down, as prices have risen in an unprecedented manner over the past six months, drowning out the impact of the US taxes.

Moreover, the actual resolution of the conflict is likely to be thorny, as the EU does not have a tariff and trade logic but a border tax logic that is different from the United States. The partnership is not self-evident and leaves the door open to a possible rapprochement with China, whether on the American or European side. 

The establishment of an EU-US Trade and Technology Council 

It is no longer a question of Europe and the United States entering into a free trade logic, as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiated since 2013 is no longer relevant. However, a Trade and Technology Council will be created to provide a platform for cooperation on trade, investment, technology, digital issues and supply chains. It embodies a willingness to cooperate in developing compatible and international standards and to promote innovation while avoiding unwarranted new trade or technical barriers. It will enable the partners to align on global technology issues, such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, clean technologies… Both sides have already committed to a partnership on rebalancing semiconductor supply chains as a priority. 

This third announcement is both the most imprecise and the most structuring for the future of EU-US bilateral relations. At a time when a technological war seems to be underway with China, the issue of technological coordination is central. After a first American and commercial globalization, which was undermined by the Trump years, Biden now has the project of knitting a new one, which will take the form of technological liberalization. 

Our analysis of Morocco’s New Development Model

Context:

Ambassador and former Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa, Chairman of the Special Commission on the Development Model (CSMD), presented his general report on Tuesday 25 May 2021 at a ceremony presided over by King Mohammed VI. The latter will give rise to a national pact for development – an unprecedented proposal in Morocco. The objective is to anchor the New Development Model as a common reference for the actors and to commit the different parties. In other words, the pact will be the tool for renewing the relationship between the State and the development actors (political parties, constitutional institutions, the private sector and social partners, territories and the third sector); a renewal whose key words are: accountability, subsidiarity, partnership, sustainability and inclusion.

Read our report in french here

Download the version PDF in French here: The Bridge Tank_analyse_Maroc_Juin2021

Financing the African economy: Supporting the Modernization of African Economies

By Clarisse Hida & Joël Ruet

As the Summit on the financing of the African economy will be held on May 18, 2021 in Paris, at the invitation of Emmanuel Macron and with the African heads of state and government, solutions must go well beyond refinancing of sovereign debt, to integrate the dynamics of an African financial system undergoing a great transformation, and must include the banking sector, both at the level of the private sector and of commercial banks.

Africa has been resilient since the economic crisis of 2008 with controlled debt until the covid pandemic, and, for many countries, debt has been raised in connection with a transformation, an extension of the tax base, with margins remaining in this in terms of debt sustainability. But above all the continent, and in particular sub-Saharan Africa, has demonstrated a real boom in its economies, served by the growth of pan-African banks, which now desreve better support internationally.

But today Africa remains underbancarised, and a “classic” treatment of African economies by the tools of the banking system possibly supported by a multilateral public tool for the correct assessment of risks, including the issues of “rating”, looks promising.

Key Take-aways :

► The issue of financing the African growth should be approached through:

– Maintaining development assistance in the context of COVID-19 which, in itself, does not constitute a specific risk for Africa.

– The revival of public and private foreign investments in Africa, by improving the perception of African opportunities, including a fairer rating of private and sovereign financial assets.

– And finally, through support the access to capital markets for commercial banks since it is clear that many banking regimes are sound and should not be underestimated.

► In each of the avenues proposed, the international community must play an integrating or intermediary role that goes beyond the framework of development aid.

► This triple approach would make it possible to tap new types of financers, who would be able to better understand the specificities and strategies of African countries, particularly, but not only, with regard to debt and its refinancing.

The Bridge Tank at the BOAO Forum for Asia 2021: a partnership anchored in a shared vision for the future

The Bridge Tank at the annual “Chinese Davos” meeting

After a year of pandemic which led to its suspension in 2020, the BOAO Forum renewed its annual conference from April 18 to 21, 2021 in a context fluctuating between resumption of international trade and temptation to withdraw. As such, the “Chinese Davos” plays a decisive role in the international calendar by advocating an open multilateral dialogue, at a time when the Covid19 has lastingly disrupt the international balance and created a series of new challenges while exacerbating those which pre-existed to it.

Since 2018, the chairman of the Bridge Tank Joël RUET has participated to the BOAO Forum, of which the think tank is a partner. As every year, he spoke at a high-level conference alongside international leaders from the political and business worlds, such as Dmytro KULEBA, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jens ESKELUND, vice-president at the Chamber of European trade in China, or LIU Hualong, president of China Poly Group, but also the director general of the WTO, Ngozi OKONJO-IWEALA, or the South Korean Minister of the Environment.

He was one of the three French speakers, embodying the circle of think tanks, while Jean-Pierre RAFFARIN and Henry GISCARD D’ESTAING, respectively represented the political and economic world. This high-level platform of dialogue, eagerly awaited in the context of a return to international discussions, aspires to build a global consensus and promote common and sustainable development. This meeting was an opportunity to discuss the measures takenby the BRI countries to keep the economic and trade volume roughly stable and normal during the COVID-19 pandemic when the global economy plunged, and cross-border trade and investment slowed down. The role of China-Europe Railway Express in stabilizing the global supply chain was also discussed, as well as the role played by e-commerce in renewing and developing international economic cooperation. In the context of an implementation of the New Silk Roads, but also of an Investment Agreement between the EU and China which is debating, the future of Sino-European relations also occupied the space of discussion.

For Joël Ruet, chairman of the Bridge Tank, “the investment of today makes the business of tomorrow”

In his speech, Joël Ruet stressed the need to optimize Eurasian trade, embodied by the rise of the China-EU Railway Express, by emphasizing the role of upstream investment. As such, it calls for a rebalancing of trade, in favor of exports of European technologies and equipment to China. On this point, the Bridge Tank discussed at length the subject of the EU’s competitive advantages to be brought to bear in its trade with China.

He also addressed the energy issue : the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could play an important role in connecting the two hydrogen champions Asia and Europe. The Bridge Tank has also developed several avenues of cooperation in terms of research that it would be strategic to develop between the two regions.

Joël RUET added that the EU did not intend to tackle the climate issue as one subject among others, but as an issue that conditions and prevails over everyone’s interests, and compared this approach to the Blinken line: dealing separately with technological rivalries and coordination for the climate. Joël Ruet said it remains to be seen whether this separation is audible by the Chinese side.

He also reflected on the place of Africa in the Belt and Road Initiative, suggesting that Africa wants and must find its place there. According to him, investments on the African continent, still too limited to infrastructure, would benefit from further enhancing contact between individuals by focusing on human capital and skills training.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister in favor of an ambitious European cooperation on hydrogen

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry raised the many challenges brought to light by the pandemic. He argues that international trade will play a key role in the global economic recovery, provided cooperation is boosted. To achieve this, and like Ukraine, which is posed as a strategic logistics hub, the regions of the world must enhance their connectivity in order to foster multilateral interactions.

He advocates enhanced European cooperation in the sector of alternative energies such as hydrogen. He therefore calls for coordinated efforts to invest in hydrogen technologies, ensuring that Ukraine intends to play its role as a strategic partner. The Bridge Tank shares with interest the Minister’s enthusiasm for innovative cooperation around hydrogen, as evidenced by these numerous works on the subject.

For Jens Eskelund, Managing Director of Maersk and Vice-President at the European Chamber of Commerce in China, “the business world allows constructive international dialogue beyond politics”

Jens Eskelund spoke about the pre-Investment Agreement between the EU and China, whose ratification has been suspended due to political disputes. For him, this is the dangerous symptom of a phenomenon of politicization of world trade: the political circle meets the business world. However, this situation is untenable in the long term: both parties must be aware of the need to maintain an open dialogue. For him, trade remains the area where constructive and frank links can be maintained regardless of political differences. The business world therefore has a role to play in maintaining contact where diplomatic relations face an impasse.

According to him, and the Bridge Tank totally agrees with him, international cooperation is indeed crucial to meet future challenges such as the climate challenge: on this subject, the EU and China cannot afford to develop technologies in parallel without converging.

LIU Hualong and the importance of working towards a state of trust to rebuild international relations

In a context of tension in diplomatic exchanges, the CEO of Poly Group insisted on a return to a state of trust, a necessary prerequisite for any trade or international investment. According to him, sharing experience and building trust are essential to rebuilding a sustainable post-covid world and stabilizing the global supply chain.

Joël Ruet bounced back from this intervention, emphasizing that constructive relations must be rooted in a state of mutual understanding, fueled by international networks and cultural projects. In fact, for a rapprochement on investment to be made by companies, it is essential to get to know each other, through multicultural initiatives.

The Bridge Tank at the BOAO Forum : to go further

If the Bridge Tank has been a faithful partner of the BOAO Forum since 2018, it is because it works to offer a vision of the world converging with the vision shared at BOAO, in favor of openness and cooperation. The interviews suggested below, given by Joël Ruet to Chinese media, allow us to deepen the meaning of this shared vision.

During an interview with CGTN TV, Joël Ruet proposed avenues for reflection on environmental cooperation between China, the European Union and the United States. He also mentioned the need to strengthen coordination between the G20 and the BRI and addressed the issue of governance of these new Silk Roads to these journalists.

Joël Ruet was quoted by CCTV13, a Chinese national news channel, about the role of BOAO in the economic integration of Asia, but also of the world on a global scale.
 
In an interview with Xinhua news on the occasion of the opening of the Forum, the president of the Bridge Tank presented his point of view on the trade of tomorrow, necessarily based on proactive and ambitious investments, a reform of the WTO, and the greening of the New Silk Roads. Quoted in an article of Xinhua news on the place of China in sustainable development on a global scale, Joël Ruet argued that the BRI has a big role to play in the energy transition, in particular in the field of hydrogen.
 
To find all the media resources of the Bridge Tank about this 2021 Edition of the BOAO Forum : (insert link of the short post).
 

EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment: Stakes for a constructive balance of power

By Philippe Coste, Pierre-Noël Giraud, Stéphane Gompertz, Henri de Grossouvre, Fatima Hadj, Brice Lalonde, François Loos, François Quentin, Joël Ruet, Raphaël Schoentgen, Alex Wang, avec Clarisse Comte et Claire Thomas.

After seven years of negotiations, the European Union and China reached an investment agreement on December 30, 2020. While Beijing sees in it the promotion of a “high degree of openness”, the EU aspires through this treaty to establish the long sought after “equality of market conditions”.

To carry out this project, a balance between the strategic interests of each side and common objectives on which to agree remains to be found… just as it remains to find avenues for concrete action.

Find the analysis note in French :2021-03-Issue-Brief-UE-CHINETélécharger

• This treaty provides for the intensification of economic and trade relations between the EU and China. It guarantees EU investors greater access to China and also helps to create more balanced conditions of competition.

• Areas of collaboration are proposed here, in various fileds : political (place of China in international organizations, global governance), legal (international standards, ESG), industrial (mobility, decarbonisation, role of SMEs), economic, environmental, scientific , technological (energy transition, carbon capture, hydrogen, nuclear, new energies), financial (coordinated introduction of carbon prices) and cultural.

• For the EU, it is above all a matter of asserting its strategic interests in a coordinated manner with the member countries during the ratification process.

The long-term issues of technological sovereignty, of competition between blocs, all possible causes of “stop and go” in bilateral relations must be seriously dealt with.

Despite the identified obstacles, maintaining an open but precise dialogue between the EU and China is essential. The European Union must continue its transformation and ensure respect for its increase in diplomatic power both within the EU and in its relationship with China: beyond state-to-state relations, it is up to the EU in as a community to negotiate the terms of a new bilateral relationship with China. It is in this way that it will confirm its status as a “balancing power”.

China “Two Sessions” : the Bridge Tank co-organizes the Think Tank & Media Forum on Global Economic Development

A Forum on Global Economic Development on the occasion of the Two Sessions in Beijing

Together with its Chinese partners, the China International Publishing Group and the China Institute for Innovation & Development Strategy, as well as the Prospective & Innovation Foundation, the Bridge Tank co-organized on March 8 a hybrid Forum on the sidelines of the Two Sessions.

On this occasion, Joël Ruet spoke alongside Wei Jianguo, former vice-minister of Commerce in China and vice-chairman of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, Cai Jiming, deputy at the People’s National Assembly and director of the Central Committee of the China Association for Promoting Democracy, and Zhang Yuyan, member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former Prime Minister of France, opened this webinar alongside four Chinese vice-ministers and the deputy speaker of the House of Representative of Argentina. For almost three hours, representatives of more than ten countries, ranging from Russia to India, from Brazil to South Africa, explored new avenues of thoughts, in particular in favor of multilateral cooperation, global economic recovery supported by innovation and reform of global economic governance. The role of international think tanks in building platforms for dialogue was highlighted, and presented as an essential strength in building a community on a humanity scale.

Chinese media articles China Today, China.org, China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy covered this event in particular.

Opening of the Forum by Jean-Pierre Raffarin: against the temptation of isolationism, an international cooperation based on innovation

In his remarks, the former French Prime Minister said that sharing of experiences and mutual understanding were essential to achieve peaceful development, a common goal for all countries. As a global crisis exacerbates the need for a coordinated response to global challenges, he stressed the dangers of a temptation to unilateralism and protectionism. Emphasizing the role of innovation, he argued that each country should actively conduct international cooperation while safeguarding its own sovereignty. He mentioned in particular the fight against climate change, referring to the joint efforts of France and China, a strong signal in favor of a global consensus for green development.

From crisis to opportunity for renewal, according to Chinese speakers Wei Jianguo, Zhang Yuyan and Cai Jiming

Former vice-minister of Commerce Wei Jianguo said China’s “dual circulation”, a pillar of the 14th Five-Year Plan launched at the same time, will bring new opportunities for global economic development. According to him, beyond the crisis it is going through, the world is entering a new era of globalization, where China must play a crucial role.

But experts have set it against a less optimistic scenario, warning of current systemic risks threatening the global economy, such as inflation, the symptoms of which – sharply rising commodity prices – are already visible. Inflation and climate change therefore emerged as two challenges of common interest to be tackled together.

Zhang Yuyan called for renewed international cooperation, which involves working together on the issue of global governance. Indeed, discussions remain to be conducted, and this responsibility falls to the great world powers, which must find the right balance between strategic autonomy and common interests.

Cai Jiming emphasized the importance of building a fair and sustainable world trading system, based on the notion of comparative interest in the international division of labor, firmly opposing isolationist tendencies that threaten the balance of world trade.

China’s commitment in Global Security and Sino-European Cooperation : Joël Ruet’s Intervention

Joël Ruet, chairman of the Bridge Tank, said China must adopt more multilateral ways to clarify its position in the security issue and create a stable external environment. Speakers also agreed on the idea that China should play a role commensurate with its economic weight in global governance.

He referred to the pre-investment Agreement concluded between China and the EU, symbol of the opportunities that can emerge from a crisis, while warning of two priorities that should not be overlooked. Indeed, he targeted two areas where Sino-European cooperation is fundamental : the environment, where the ambitious words of the heads of state must be implemented through acts in the perspective of the COP26, and industrial cooperation, that the European and Chinese industries and businesses see as very promising.

The take of The Bridge Tank on the 2021 Two Sessions – “Dual circulation”, high-quality development, disappointing environmental objectives…

 

The Two Sessions designates the two annual plenary meetings of the National People’s Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. After a year of pandemic which had postponed this meeting in May 2020, the Chinese leaders were keen this year to launch it on March 5, as if to embody the exemplary resilience of the country and the regained normality of the regime’s institutions. Plus, it is marked by the launch of the 14th Five-Year Plan 2021-2025 and the 100 years anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Among the highlights of this event, Prime Minister Li Keqiang has set a growth target of 6% for 2021. This moderate figure shows that the priority will be less focused on an attractive GDP – the IMF is banking on an 8% recovery – than on stable growth in a context of uncertainty, and on three pillars: “reform, innovation, and high quality development”. Also, the budget allocated to research and development will increase by more than 7% per year over the next five years, to achieve breakthroughs in future technologies and allow China to gain strategic autonomy. Another priority of the regime is to upgrade the supply chain and to promote domestic consumption, especially in the automotive and household appliances sector.

In fact, both the Two Sessions and the 14th Five-Year Plan have as a common thread the development paradigm of “dual circulation”. This notion denotes a two-pronged development strategy that requires both internal and external market support to stimulate long-term consumption patterns. The domestic cycle is particularly emphasized while it is complemented by an international cycle, with foreign trade and investments abroad. This objective of betting on the huge Chinese domestic market is rooted in a desire to hedge against external shocks, in the context of rising diplomatic tensions and instability in the world economy.

Li Keqiang also stopped on the environmental issue: he called for the promotion of the greening of lifestyles and production. For example, one of the targets for 2021 is to achieve a rate of 70% for the use of clean energy for heating. The 14th Plan calls for China to reduce its energy consumption per unit of GDP by 13.5% and CO2 emissions by 18%. Yet the experts say that the objectives mentioned do not represent a real acceleration to achieve the carbon neutrality expected in 2060, for lack of concrete means. For example, the Double Assembly as well as the 14th Five-Year Plan introduced the idea of ​​a “cap on CO2 emissions”, without actually setting one. While it is encouraging that a component dealing with climate change is for the first time adopted in a national-level plan, these initial environmental indications are therefore often perceived as ambiguous, even disappointing.

Minister Brice Lalonde and former UN deputy SG discusses ecological transition with the Bridge Tank

Brice Lalonde, who served as French Minister for the Environment, UN Under-Secretary-General for Climate, and Executive Coordinator at Rio+20, detailed the major issues at stake around the ecological transition around which powers must engage in a new cycle of technological cooperation.

Prospects for Sino-European cooperation

The former minister recalled that the electrification of our economies is key for the transition, requiring the deployment and improvement of techniques such as batteries, electrolysers, and more broadly raising the question of large-scale electricity production. Brice Lalonde believes that it is in this context that nuclear energy is most relevant and should be subject to technological exchange. He recalled, by way of example, the previous signing of a France-China agreement on the construction of a nuclear waste reprocessing plant.
The speaker also mentioned several times the prospect of future use of synthetic fuels, which consist in capturing and reusing the carbon dioxide initially emitted as energy. Brice Lalonde thus insisted on the distinction between present and future energy resources, illustrating his point with the example of water, which should become a strategic resource because of the technology of water electrolysis, allowing for the production of hydrogen.
Finally, the former minister addressed the research issues surrounding carbon fixation, in the form of artificial photosynthesis or through the sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2), on which China and the EU must also work together.

Global governance and the future of international trade

On the other hand, and apart from Sino-European relations alone, Brice Lalonde more broadly presented the lack of international cooperation on ecological issues as the main shortcoming preventing the deployment of the ecological transition on a large scale. In his opinion, a paradigm shift is necessary consisting in the establishment of a minimum of global governance on these subjects, in contrast to the current configuration where sovereign climate programmes are simply added together, without any supranational dimension. He believes that we lack major international cooperation agreements, concerning gas for example, where the gas industry should have coordinated to finance the transition of coal-based economies to gas, which emits much less CO2. It therefore seems crucial to him to revitalise multilateralism, in order to carry out projects such as the establishment of a common carbon market on an international scale.

Finally, on the subject of international trade, the former Environment Minister was able to oppose a shared opinion that would like to present it as an outdated practice in a world seeking to achieve carbon neutrality. On the contrary, Brice Lalonde stated that trade can be ecological. “We absolutely need trade. Trade can be a very powerful ally for the environment,” he said. To do so, trade rules should no longer focus solely on finished products, but also on production standards (i.e. regulating production-related greenhouse gas emissions). From this point of view, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) still has its place in the world of tomorrow. The WTO has already accepted the primacy of environmental law in prior cases, when this law is enshrined in international agreements. In the future, states could thus theoretically take advantage of international ecological agreements imposing production standards in order to block imports from countries that violate them.

Lalonde was one of the keynote speakers of the Bridge Tank’s forum on the post-COVID-19 EU-China cooperation. He took part in a panel entitled « Green development or ecological civilisation? », which was moderated by Wen Cui-Pottier, former journalist of the Shangai Media Group. This forum took place in the Brongniart Palace in Paris on the 15th of October 2020.The other speakers of this session were Nicolas Imbert, Executive Director of Green Cross France & Territoires and two members of the Bridge Tank’s board : Guillaume Henry, President of the Association of the Ecological Analysis of Law, and Zhao Wei, researcher at Sun Yatsen’s University.

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