Finally, the Copenhagen Climate Summit starts. Reaching an agreement at the conference is `a very big and important task´ for the Swedish EU Presidency, Fredrik Reinfeldt stated in July. Now it is clear that Copenhagen will not produce a binding agreement, a setback for Reinfeldt´s ambitions.
Without doubt, the European Union has played a leading role in global climate negotiations, saving the Kyoto Protocol and setting the most ambitious emission targets among major economies.
European leverage in Copenhagen depends on how governments solve outstanding issues. There is still no bid from the EU on financial aid to developing countries, although Reinfeldt claimed so after the European Council in October. Sweden is now trying to get pledges from as many EU governments as possible.
Financial aid has to be additional to earlier promises if Copenhagen is to be a success. Developing countries will not be convinced if the money comes from existing development aid budgets. The European Council on Thursday and Friday has to come up with a substantial offer.
Fredrik Reinfeldt must also have the guts to say no to Barack Obama if the US position is too weak. It would be a serious mistake to abandon the Kyoto Protocol without a better binding agreement in place.
In Copenhagen, the European Union will be in the lead. But in five years, the picture might have changed. The new government in Japan has already presented an ambitious climate target. China is moving fast forward, for example on green technologies. The same goes for South Korea and other emerging economies. With Barack Obama as President, the United States can regain the leading role in environmental policy the country had during the 1970s and 1980s.
Europe could quickly lose its pole position if there is not enough progress on new environmental measures. Unfortunately, there has been a slowing down in green policy-making during the last few years, with industry concerns over short-term competitiveness growing more influential.
The new Commission will have a key role in securing that Europe does not fall behind. Connie Hedegaard is a good choice as climate commissioner, but it is also crucial that the new climate directorate has a strong leadership. The ambitious climate targets agreed must be followed by concrete measures to preserve Europe´s credibility.
Other environmental issues are equally important. It will not be possible to find long-term solutions to climate change without adressing the loss of biodiversity. Resource and energy efficiency will climb even higher on the political agenda when conflicts over scarce resources grow stronger.
Thus, Jan Potocnik´s portfolio is as important as Connie Hedegard. The European Parliament should put tough questions to Potocnik on the agenda for the coming years.
The new high representative, Catherine Ashton, also has a key role. The European External Actions Service should have a strong green component.
Being a green world power is an advantage for the European Union, giving credibility both in the world and among its own citizens. The Copenhagen Summit will be a test for European diplomacy and for the Swedish Presidency. However, ambitious Commission proposals on environment during the next few years could be even more important for Europe´s role on the global stage.