Benched or Benchmark? Can the EU Take the Lead Again on Climate?

Torstaina, 25. helmikuuta 2010     2 kommentti(a)
Thomas Spencer
Kansainvälinen ympäristö- ja luonnonvarapolitiikka -tutkimusohjelma
For the EU, Copenhagen was a wake-up call. An internal Chinese report after the summit bluntly stated that “Copenhagen was a set-back for the EU”. Granted, the EU was not the cause of the ambiguous outcome, but it was clearly not as effective as it might have been. So is a rethink needed?

The EU’s emissions target is less impressive than it was when first proposed in 2007. The recession has substantially lowered the EU’s “business as usual” emissions trajectory to 2020. This implies that it will be easier and cheaper to reach its 20% target (as this study notes). In addition, recent pledges from some developed nations have taken away much of the lustre the EU target appeared to have in 2007-2008. Thus the EU can not really claim leadership on the back of its current reduction target.
In Copenhagen the EU advocated for a “single legal outcome” to replace the Kyoto Protocol. When it came under fire for wanting to abandon Kyoto, the EU changed tack and suggested that it wanted the single legal outcome to be just as strong legally as the Kyoto Protocol.

This was a politically incoherent position, as the USA and major developing countries were and remain unable or unwilling to commit to a legally-binding treaty. Advocating a legal proposal that was off the cards led to the isolation of the EU in Copenhagen. Therefore, the EU needs to chart a more realistic path if the outcome it desires is to be obtained.

Building up an instrument for new countries, i.e. the USA and major emerging economies, will clearly take time, politically and technically. From its negotiation in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol took almost 8 years to enter into force in 2005. And if Kyoto is scrapped the resultant political fallout could delay the negotiation of a replacement even further. Thus it is looking increasingly unlikely that an instrument could be negotiated to enter into force at the beginning of 2013 - after Kyoto’s first commitment period ends.

Yet Annex B countries with commitments under Kyoto are (understandably) extremely unwilling to commit to a second commitment period without assurance that others are also committed to action. Put bluntly, the USA and major developing countries can’t be let off the hook again. Given that 100% of future emissions growth to 2030 is expected to come from non-OECD countries (see this fact sheet by the IEA), getting them on board is simply a scientific and political necessity.

So the key question becomes: can a compromise be found which is a) strong enough to satisfy Annex B countries, such that they might be willing to continue in Kyoto; and b) flexible enough that the USA and major developing countries could sign up now, building up the technical and legal detail over time?

A key element may be to agree on a mandate and timeline to achieve a legally-binding agreement for the USA and major developing countries, perhaps centred around the 2015 review enshrined in the Copenhagen Accord. Additionally, a second commitment period for the KP could be linked to the coverage of a certain percentage of global emissions by the LCA and KP together.

Raising the EU’s target alone is unlikely to significantly influence the major players. But it could help to shore up the waning ambition of other countries like Japan and Australia. The real impact could be made if the EU were to link a higher target with a coherent institutional proposal along the lines discussed above. That could potentially return credibility to the EU and unlock the climate talks.

For further discussion, see UPI’s latest briefing paper:

The EU and the global climate regime:
Getting back in the game

Thomas Spencer, Kristian Tangen, Anna Korppoo

Kirjoitukset edustavat kirjoittajien henkilökohtaisia näkemyksiä.

Keskustelu (2 kommenttia)

1.3.2010, Kenneth Sikorski

Do you actually believe what you write, especially during a time when the IPCC report is currently going down in flames?

2.3.2010, Thomas Spencer

Dear Kenneth,

I am not sure what you mean by "going down in flames". That one regrettable, very unprofessional error relating to the Himalayan glaciers was found in the IPCC's fourth assessment report changes nothing in the vast body of climate science gathered over the last 30 plus years. If you would be more specific in your criticism I would be happy to respond.

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