Europe and China are stepping up coordination in the fight against global warming after the US decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement to cut greenhouse gases, said Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission.

The 28-nation European Union will press ahead with efforts to protect the environment by shifting to a low-carbon economy and reducing dependency on fossil fuels, Timmermans said in Brussels. The EU accounts for about 12 per cent of global emissions and China for around 20 per cent.

“The Chinese are faced with such a challenge that you can see the sense of urgency prevailing there more and more, and the willingness to cooperate with us is getting stronger and stronger,” Timmermans said. “People are suffocating in the cities in parts of China. They know they need to do something urgently about this. And in some areas they’re moving at incredible speed.”

To meet its carbon-reduction targets, set at 20 per cent by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2030, the EU has moved to sustainable energy sources and established the world’s biggest carbon market. With China intensifying its fight against air pollution and the EU helping the government in Beijing to design a nationwide cap-and-trade programme, investors are awaiting political signals about a future link between the two systems and closer cooperation on clean energy technologies.

The administration of US President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, last month began the formal process of leaving the Paris climate accord. Agreed in December 2015, the deal united more than 190 countries in a pledge to work toward limiting fossil-fuel emissions.

“The willingness not just in Europe, but also globally, to not let this fall apart is very strong,” Timmermans said. “Perhaps this summer I was a bit shell shocked because of the decision of the Trump administration, but also people I think are encouraged by that many, many in the US see it differently.”

Timmermans, who is due to address a World Economic Forum conference in New York on sustainable development on Monday and Tuesday, said he expected the fight against climate change in the US to be driven by cities and citizens.