Moving forward on climate



Today, I was one of the speakers at a climate event hosted by IPPR, Christian Aid and WWF-UK. Below you will find a somewhat expanded version of my introductory remarks on Europe´s role in global climate politics.


Two major questions are posed at this event: 

How can Europe regain its leadership?

How can it get others to follow?

As regards the leadership, I agree that the European Union was sidelined in Copenhagen and that there is a need to learn from that. The present economic crisis and austerity measures might also contribute to weakening the support for ambitious targets.

At the same time, however, it´s important to state that the EU still has what is probably the most ambitious climate policies of the major actors in the negotiations.

My first point is that the EU should not water down its commitments, which might be a real danger if Cancun is a failure and climate moves further down the policy agenda. In the short-term, defending what has been achieved must be part of the strategy.

When it comes to regaining Europe´s influence, the basis of leadership is what you do yourself.

The implementation of the 2008 climate and energy package is very important. Member States have to put forward convincing plans to reach the targets for reducing carbon emissions, improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewable energy sources. But Europe also has to move forward on new measures, for example on energy efficiency, carbon taxes and on improvements to the emissions trading system.

So, how do you build support for an ambitious climate policy in a time of crisis? Discussions before and at European Councils is something different from meetings of Environment Ministers.

There are a number of arguments that can convince top-level decision-makers why Europe should continue to take the lead.

First, of course, the risks of climate change. Policy-makers have to understand the dramatic consequences of a 3 or 4 degree change. There is still a tendency not to plan for worst-case scenarios. When public debate is focussing on the economy, it´s even more important  to continue highlighting possible abrupt effects from climate change.

Second, the long-term competiveness of  European industry. By not moving forward, other areas of the world will take the lead in the development of low-carbon technologies – both for climate policy reasons and to improve energy security. There is a real risk of Europe being overtaken by developments around the Pacific Ocean. Look at the green investment packages in China, South Korea. DG Climate Action has put forward an interesting analysis of this subject in a Staff Working Paper accompanying the recent Communication on a possible 30 percent reduction target.

Third, there is the issue about green jobs and green investment as a way out of the present crisis. Austerity measures will probably dominate political debate this year, causing public protests and posing risks of legitimacy to a number of European governments. There will be cuts also in environmental budgets and perhaps in development aid. But it will be difficult for politicians not to take action to reduce unemployment and for example looking at new ways of financing investment in renewable energy and power grids. This is also a lesson from Swedish experience during the deep economic crisis of the 1990s.

Fourth, the link between climate change and security is evident. The foreign and security community is starting to take climate change seriously. Present and potential conflicts in other parts of the world, energy security for Europe, conflicts over natural resources more broadly that feeds in to Europe´s security.  

Fifth, the European Union´s political need for world leadership in a time of shrinking economic influence. The people at the new positions established by the Lisbon Treaty are competing. One positive aspect of these turf wars is that all of them – Van Rompuy, Ashton and Barroso – want to be in the front on climate, at least as long there is not complete failure in global negotiations. I would particularly mention Herman Van Rompuy and his staff as a more important player in the time to come.

With so many strong arguments, I am optimistic that the European Union will continue to move forward on climate policies and play a progressive role in the global negotiations on climate. But to succeed, Europe must learn from the failure in Copenhagen.

That brings me to the second question: How can the EU get others to follow?

To a large extent, I believe the answer is trust.

One reason the EU punched below its weight in Copenhagen was the confidence gap between developed and developing nations. In other negotiations, co-operation between the EU and G77-countries has been important to achieve results: for example on the biosafety protocol of the convention on biological diversity and the export ban in the Basel convention. In Copenhagen, the BASIC countries did the deal with the US, apparently not caring too much about Europe. To change that next time, the EU must build stronger alliances both with countries like Brazil and South Africa, and with poorer countries. (Of course India, China and Russia are also important, but time does not allow me to dwell on those relations).

To build trust with developing countries, there are a number of important issues for the EU:

– delivering on fast-track financing

– supporting the Kyoto protocol as one option for post 2012

– helping countries facing climate-related environmental disasters

– confidence building measures such as developing certification schemes for emission reductions (as proposed by IPPR)

– listening to the concerns of developing countries in other areas of international environmental policies, such as biological diversity and recycling

– considering the way the EU acts in some parts of trade policy. For example the raw materials initiative – better to develop win-win policies than to threaten with economic sanctions. Or the external trade aspects of the EU2020 strategy. How the EU acts on trade issues will affect the level  trust in climate discussions. Look for win-win strategies such as free trade in low-carbon technologies.

– using possible leverage from reform of CAP and fisheries policies. There will not be enough reform in the short-term, but still there could be openings for improving trust. In the long-run, reducing agricultural production and export subsidies is necessary for a global green deal.

– delivering on Millenium Goals, inter alia on official development assistance. The June European Council stayed by the 2015 target for ODA but there is a need to defend this in the wake of the euro crisis.

– improving green diplomacy.  The Lisbon Treaty gives new opportunities, but there is also cause for concern given the present turf wars in Brussels.

Much is to be said about the road to Cancun and South Africa, but time does not allow to go deeper into the negotiating issues. Progress on issues such as forestry, hot air and verification is important. But there is also a need to look at the broader context. In the time frame 2015 – where are we then?

Most important now is to keep momentum. Let not disappointment after Cancun allow the whole process to collapse. If a legally binding agreement on emission targets is not possible in the near-term, agree on a step-by-step process.

One part of such a process could be a stronger focus on Policies and Measures, building on the relevant parts of the climate convention. Progress in this area has stalled since the 1990s.  For example, why not develop a protocol on minimum standards for energy efficiency, based on the UNFCCC?

To summarize: key for the EU is delivering on its own 20-20-20 targets, building trust with developing countries, looking for step-by-step progress in global negotiations based on policies and measures as defined by the climate convention.

Thank you.