EU moves forward on global climate policy despite fears to the opposite

Thursday, 29. January 2009     0 comment(s)
Tuuli Mäkelä
International Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment research programme
Last week, newly elected US president Barack Obama reaffirmed his commitment to re-engage the US in the international fight against climate change. As the world is waiting for Obama to mark a crucial turn in US climate policy, pressure is mounting on the European Union to show that it remains one step ahead of the game and will not be resigning from its climate leadership position any time soon. As a response, the European Commission yesterday released its provisional plans for a post-2012 deal in Copenhagen. Will it be enough to convince that the EU is ready to take charge and begin real negotiations on global climate policy?

Last year was particularly tough for the European Union, also climate-wise. The EU climate and energy package was nearly run down due to opposition from Europe’s heavily-polluting industries and certain coal-dependent member states. As the EU was struggling to maintain a united front in its internal efforts to slow down climate change, it fell under criticism for failing to bring concrete measures on the table during global climate negotiations culminating in Poznan last December.

Whether considered a success or a failure, the completion of the EU climate package means that climate issues are now largely removed from the domestic agenda and the EU can finally concentrate on global efforts to combat climate change. But is the EU prepared to lead the way into a global climate treaty in Copenhagen by the end of this year?

Some are nervous about the direction of EU climate policy under its current presidency, the Czech Republic. For one, the Czechs were among the group of member states opposed to deep cuts under the climate and energy package, which arguably lead to a weaker final outcome. Second, the nation’s president Vaclav Klaus is one of the world’s renowned climate denialists and has already used the Czech presidency as a platform to voice his opinions (see his op-ed in Financial Times, published the same day the Czech government released its work programme for the presidency).

Despite these concerns, the EU seems determined to push forward on international climate policy and prove skeptics wrong. The European Commission yesterday (28th Jan) published a communication in which it outlines the EU’s general position on the post-2012 global climate deal. In the communication, the Commission provides proposals on how to finance low-carbon development and adaptation in the developing world, and how to engage OECD countries in binding emissions targets and effective climate change mitigation through the establishment of global carbon market from 2015 onwards.

EU governments are expected to agree on these measures in March. The Czechs are also accepting their role as the EU Presidency and plan to engage in preparatory negotiations on the post-Kyoto climate treaty with the USA and other major emitters such as Russia, Brazil, China and India in the coming months.

So does it look like the EU is finally showing signs of leadership in global climate policy? Although the EU position is likely to evolve in the coming months as others react to it and bring forward their own views, it shows that the EU has picked up the pace and seems ready to engage in real negotiations, in spite of economic concerns.

The EU’s proposal has however also been criticized for lacking more precise propositions and figures, particularly on financing. To this end, it must not be forgotten that full-blown global negotiations are not likely to commence until the latter half of the year and other countries are still in the process of shaping their own positions on post-Kyoto negotiations in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. Moreover, it remains to be seen how quickly the new US administration will be able to get their act together for a deal in Copenhagen.

As much of the issues will have to be revisited when negotiations with other key players kick off, it is safe to say that the EU plan is, to say the least, a good start to the right direction. We can only hope that the Czechs and the rest of the EU will be proactive enough during the first half of 2009 to clear the negotiation ground as much as possible for the Swedes as they take up what looks out to be a rather challenging and daunting EU Presidency.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

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