21 Jun 2023, 09:00
Benjamin Wehrmann Julian Wettengel

China and Germany agree “Climate and Transformation Dialogue” in difficult political landscape

Photo shows China's premier Li Qiang.
The first foreign trip as China's premier took Li Qiang to Berlin, Germany.

The governments of China and Germany have agreed to introduce a “Climate and Transformation Dialogue” to speed up their transition towards a more climate friendly economy. Fighting climate change remained a main concern for the two countries, said chancellor Olaf Scholz at the first in-person government consultations between the two countries since the coronavirus pandemic, which take place in a markedly more difficult international environment. Both Beijing and Berlin would focus their cooperation on issues such as making industrial processes more climate-friendly, promoting the switch to climate-friendly mobility and strengthening the circular economy, Scholz said at the visit of Chinese premier Li Qiang to Berlin. NGO Germanwatch called the agreement a "remarkable success for German climate diplomacy." [UPDATE adds view by NGO Germanwatch]

Germany and China will introduce a new “Climate and Transformation Dialogue” format between the two countries to speed up the climate-friendly transition through dialogue and concrete cooperation, said chancellor Olaf Scholz after joint government consultations in Berlin. As large greenhouse gas emitters, both countries have a special responsibility to combat climate change, the chancellor said. “We will take on this responsibility together.”

“We want to join forces and share experiences in order to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Scholz at a press statement together with China’s premier, Li Qiang. “Our common goal is to make industrial processes more climate-friendly, to accelerate the energy transition, to promote the switch to climate-friendly mobility and to strengthen the circular economy,” he said.

The economy ministry said that the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding on the new format - the "Dialogue and Cooperation Mechanism on Climate Change and Green Transition." Existing formats are to be built upon and expanded. Specifically, there should be closer cooperation at provincial and sectoral level and decarbonisation should be accelerated, especially in the industrial sector. In order to monitor and coordinate joint developments, there will be an annual high-level forum under the leadership of economy minister Robert Habeck and the Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Zheng Shanjie.

Agreement "remarkable success for German climate diplomacy" - NGO

NGO Germanwatch welcomed the memorandum of understanding and said it could be seen as a success for German climate diplomacy. “It is good that the climate and transformation dialogue raises the exchange to a higher political level,” because China is needed for global climate action, said Lutz Weischer, head of the organisation’s Berlin office. In the declaration, China had committed itself “more clearly than ever” to the 1.5-degree limit, to the need for accelerated emission reductions by 2030, and to the special responsibility that both countries have for global climate action due to their strong industries, said Weischer. “This is a remarkable success for German climate diplomacy.” Weischer added that the declaration now had to lead to concrete action.

Both Scholz and Li said that the fight against climate change was a main concern for the bilateral talks. Among other things, ministers had discussed the expansion of wind and solar energy, and signed a memorandum of understanding on electric and hydrogen mobility to continue cooperation and technical exchange on safety, regulation and standardisation, said Scholz.

“Addressing climate change should be an important area of cooperation for both sides,” said Li.

The Sino-German government consultation on Tuesday, 20 June, posed difficulties for the German government. The administration under chancellor Scholz from the Social Democrats (SPD) must tread a fine line between asserting European and broader Western interests vis-à-vis China’s role in Russia’s war on Ukraine, and Beijing’s own territorial claims to Taiwan, whilst not fully alienating a vital trade partner and crucial player in international cooperation.

The Dialogue and Cooperation Mechanism on Climate Change and Green Transition


  • “achieve practical results” in green and low-carbon development
  • accelerate climate action, energy transition and climate technology innovation


Organisational structure

  • ministerial-level dialogue
  • secretariat and lead with economy ministry on German side; National Development and Reform Commission on Chinese side
  • plenary meeting once a year to be held either in China or in Germany
  • new and existing working groups can be used


Forms of cooperation

  • high-level dialogue through bilateral and multilateral meetings
  • expert exchange through joint studies, workshops, conferences, delegation trips and other activities, also with stakeholders
  • involvement of business representatives of both sides regarding activities under this mechanism
  • jointly building demonstration projects
  • other forms of cooperation as agreed by the sides


Fields of cooperation

  • Industrial decarbonization
  • Energy transition and renewable energy
  • Energy conservation and energy efficiency
  • Circular economy and resource efficiency
  • Climate Partnership and multilateral climate agenda
  • Greenhouse gas emissions trading
  • Green transportation
  • Sustainable finance

When presenting Germany's new national security strategy in the week before the consultations, Green Party foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said on China that the country’s investments in worldwide infrastructure as part of its so-called Belt and Road initiative, such as for energy supply, could become a security issue. The China strategy that Scholz's coalition had promised has been delayed, but should be presented later in the year.  

Michael Roth, a leading SPD foreign policy expert, aired concerns over the usefulness of the Sino-German government consultations ahead of the state visit by Chinese premier Li. The actions of the government under Chinese president Xi Jinping “contradict our own values and interests,” Roth told media association RND. The meeting in Berlin therefore should be seen as “a trial run to see how many concrete projects we can still actually agree on,” he said. Contrary to prior consultations, expanding ties would no longer be the focus but rather minimising risks in the relationship, he added.

German economic development minister Svenja Schulze said that China and Germany should not only ensure good bilateral cooperation on issues like climate change, but also in multilateral organisations like the World Bank. “I have had good and open discussions on this with our Chinese partners, although we also repeatedly hold different values and approaches in the global development discourse,” she said. Schulze has been a key advocate of a reform of how the World Bank works to have an increased focus on climate.

Ministries sign environmental protection cooperation deal

China and Germany generally agreed to intensify their collaboration on climate action and other environmental challenges, the German environment ministry (BMUV) announced ahead of Sino-German government consultations in Berlin.

“Germany and China look back at many years of cooperation on climate and the environment that has developed consistently over time,” environment minister Steffi Lemke from the Green Party said. China’s “key role in global efforts to protect the environment” goes far beyond greenhouse gas emissions and encompasses issues like biodiversity and ecosystem protection at a global scale, Lemke said.

Bilateral efforts will target greenhouse gas emissions, reducing air and water pollution and halting species loss. All these challenges could only be addressed together, the minister added. “This is why it’s important to strengthen our cooperation both in multilateral forums and at the bilateral level,” she argued.

Lemke and her Chinese counterpart, environment minister Huang Runqiu, agreed to hold a Sino-German environment conference on 1-2 November this year, bringing together government and business representatives from both countries for an exchange on environmental policy practices.

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