Home > Uncategorized > EU sees itself as a leader and a model (one of its favourite self-images)

EU sees itself as a leader and a model (one of its favourite self-images)

Monday 29th: It was widely perceived that the EU was prominent in the organisation, and in the first days of COP15, the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December, but that it was disorganised or disunited at the crunch, so as to be virtually bypassed in the final tense confrontations. The non-binding agreement brokered between the US, Brazil, China, India and South Africa, was not ‘negotiated’ with the EU but merely presented for its acceptance or rejection. Rejection would have labelled COP15 as a humiliating failure, so the EU put a brave face on accepting it. But given the size of its economy, the intense publicity given the conference by European governments and civil society in the run-up, and the sheer scale of the EU’s industrialisation and economic influence, humiliation was implicit anyway.

The EU Observer online news service reported, ‘The text, which only “recognises” the need to limit global temperatures to rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but does not require that this happen, was itself only “recognised” by the 193 countries attending the Copenhagen summit and not approved by them.’

Perhaps the expectations beforehand were exaggerated: not only on the part of the general public but also of many world leaders. In our blog from Copenhagen, Frances Orchard quoted the then Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd:

When the history of this century comes to be written this conference will be viewed as a defining moment for this planet. Will the peoples of world have acted in concert, or were we so consumed with petty national interests that we turned against each other and failed to act together to save the planet? . . . When I go home I will need to face this question with the next generation: did I do everything in my power to bring about climate change? If not, we will have failed our children and our planet’s future. History will be our judge.

Given this embarrassing history, it is perhaps understandable that no one has troubled to cultivate similar hopes for COP16: nor will Barack Obama or Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao be present to stake their reputation on a ‘successful’ outcome.

Since December, 2009, the EU has restructured its representation to be better prepared. In February 2010 the Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik, gained a colleague responsible for a new ‘Department of Climate Action’. In an ironical twist, the new Commissioner is Connie Hedegaard, who, as Danish Minister of Climate and Energy, was one of the hosts of COP15. Since plenty of criticisms last year were levelled at the Danish Government for a series of procedural bungles or provocations, including the virtual exclusion from key discussions of all but the biggest countries (and therefore the exclusion of countries most likely to suffer quickly from climate change), she has a considerable personal stake in maximising the EU’s contribution this time round.

In the new division of EU competence, Mr Potočnik’s Environment Department has the primary function of dealing with ‘global issues which affect us all – things like nature and biodiversity, water, waste, forests, air quality and noise, to name only a few’. It is the Department of Climate Action that will bear the weight of the EU’s efforts in Cancún.

The EU tried to make the best of COP15 by interpreting the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ as the ‘first step towards a legally binding global treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2013’. It pledged €7.2 billion over the period 2010-12 to help developing countries make a fast start on strengthening their capacities to tackle climate change. (One might unkindly compare this with the facility agreed for the Irish financial crisis in which €35 billion is set aside to rescue the banks alone.)

At this point, it retains the three internal targets it articulated in 2008, to be attained by 2020:

– cutting greenhouse gases by 20% (30% if international agreement is reached)
– reducing energy consumption by 20% through increased energy efficiency
– meeting 20% of our energy needs from renewable sources.

Clearly the EU sees itself as a leader and a model (one of its favourite self-images). This may be a little self-congratulatory, but is not shameful, since leadership is urgently needed.  On the other hand, the first of the three points listed above shows that it is not prepared to be a self-sacrificing leader. If EU officials took that stance, they would be fiercely rejected by those member states for which the economic crisis – with its supposed cure of consumer-led economic growth – is far more ‘real’ than the threat of climate change.

Nevertheless the EU has declared both its preferred next steps and its key long-term goals:

‘The average global temperature is already almost 0.8°C higher than in the pre-industrial era. There is a broad scientific and political consensus, recognised by the Copenhagen Accord, that warming must be kept below 2°C to avert dangerous levels of climate change. To stay within this temperature limit, worldwide emissions must stop rising before 2020, must be cut by at least half of their 1990 levels by 2050, and must continue to fall thereafter. The EU’s goal is to ensure that an ambitious and legally binding global treaty to achieve these objectives is agreed at the UN climate change conference in Mexico City in November 2010.’

Such a declaration is a gamble, once again raising previously disappointed expectations. We shall follow with interest the EU’s contribution to the negotiations.

Frank Turner
Jesuit European Office-OCIPE
Brussels

Categories: Uncategorized
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