Moving forward on climate

24/06/2010

 

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.

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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.

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Climate breakdown shows need for new EU environmental strategy

20/12/2009

 

After the failure in Copenhagen, many must consider what went wrong. Europe needs to rethink its international environmental strategy.

The European Union can look back at a number of green success stories. Working together with developing nations, Europe played an important role at the Rio Conference in 1992, for the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and for progress in other fields, such as control of dangerous waste under the Basel Convention and the Biosafety Protocol under the Convention on Biodiversity.

But in Copenhagen, European leaders were sidelined by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. When the deal between Barack Obama and the emerging economies was done, the European Union faced the choice either to agree or to be accused of stopping an agreement in Copenhagen. The press conference where José Manuel Barroso and Fredrik Reinfeldt were going to present the European view was delayed for more than two hours – a sign that discussions among EU Heads of Government were not easy.

José Manuel Barroso and Fredrik Reinfeldt at the Climate Summit. Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Government Offices

Already before EU co-ordination started, Nicolas Sarkozy said that the deal was done. Once again, the big EU countries acted on their own, making the role of the rotating Presidency difficult.

The Swedish Presidency´s disappointment over the Copenhagen Summit was obvious.

Major fiasco, complete mess, totally inadequate, massive disappointment are words that spring to mind twittered Gunnar Caperius, adviser to the Minister for Environment.

The Minister himself, Andreas Carlgren, wrote on his blog under the title `Disappointed over the Copenhagen outcome´: What happened at the climate conference is really not what I and the EU have worked so incredibly hard for…Yesterday the USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa made a deal on their own.

Of course, the responsibility rests with many players, mainly the US and China. But the Swedish EU Presidency was too weak, with clear divisions between Andreas Carlgren and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

What lesson can the European Union learn from the climate fiasco?

First, the world has changed. China is flexing its economic muscles more than before. India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa are taking a self-confident role on the global scene. The European Union must have a more coherent foreign policy in relations to such countries, not allowing them to divide Member States (as Russia has done on energy policy).

Second, Europe must build stronger alliances with poor countries. During the climate negotiations, Sweden as EU Chair categorically refused to discuss new commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. This attitude provoked many developing countries, and in the end the European Union had to revise its position. Now, EU leaders, and the new High Representative Catherine Ashton, must find ways to increase trust among the poor countries.

Third, environment cannot any longer be seen isolated from trade and development policy. The refusal by China and India to move forward on binding climate commitments will certainly increase calls for border tax adjustments and other restrictive trade measures. That is a dangerous route.

The EU should instead use the review of the Common Agricultural Policy and the negotiations on the next long-term budget to reduce trade barriers and subsidies, and use this leverage to convince major partners to move forward on climate.


A Green World Power – But For How Long?

06/12/2009

 

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.

Green Ministers. Denmark´s Connie Hedegaard and Sweden´s Andreas Carlgren.  Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Government Offices

Green Ministers. Denmark´s Connie Hedegaard and Sweden´s Andreas Carlgren. Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Government Offices

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.

Others on the Swedish EU Presidency: DN, Jean QuatremerTony BarberGrahnlawse2009.eu


Failure on Climate Financing

02/11/2009

 

Read the conclusions, do not trust press conferences. That is good advice when it comes to understanding political decisions – in the EU as well as in domestic policy.

José Manuel Barroso and Fredrik Reinfeldt claimed success on climate after the European Council. `The difficult question of “climate financing” has been resolved and the EU’s climate package is thus complete.´, the Swedish Presidency states on its website.

The text gives another impression. Fredrik Reinfeldt had to weaken key paragraphs considerably. As a result, there is no clear commitment from the EU on financing in the run-up to Copenhagen. This will complicate tomorrow´s talks with Barack Obama, as well as negotiations with other major emitters.

The European Council agreed on the overall amount needed for 2020, including private financing through emission trading and other means. But more importantly, there was no decision on the short-term financing, crucial for a political agreement in Copenhagen.

Before the EU Summit, Sweden had proposed the following wording:

`The European Council appreciates the Commission´s estimate of an overall financing need of EUR 5-7 billion per year for the first three years following an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen and underlines that the EU in this context is ready to contribute its fair share of these costs´

This text met strong resistance from Germany, Poland and others. As a result, there was no agreement on the financing need, in contrast to what the Swedish Presidency claims on its website. The paragraph in the final conclusions is:

`Taking note of the Commission estimate that a global financing of EUR 5-7 billion per year for the first three years is needed following an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen, the European Council underlines that a figure will be determined in the light of the outcome of the Copenhagen conference.´

Der Spiegel is right in describing the outcome as a success for Angela Merkel, who did not want concrete figures decided at the Summit. The Guardian, among others, gives a good overview of the failure to reach agreement on financial commitments.

There was also no agreement on the controversial issue of `hot air´, emission allowances in the Kyoto protocol not used by countries.

What does this mean for Copenhagen?

Fredrik Reinfeldt´s adviser for climate, Lars-Erik Liljelund, rules out a legally binding agreement. `It was somewhat stupid to make Copenhagen a bigger event than it is´, he says to Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

How wise is it then to abandon the Kyoto protocol (which does not end in 2013) without securing an alternative?

 

Briefly on other issues at the European Council:

Fredrik Reinfeldt was more successful on institutional issues. The Lisbon Treaty is almost in place, a significant achievement by the Presidency. Another positive result is the progress on guidelines for the External Action Service.

On migration, the Summit agreed wording supporting tough border controls, but did not specifically mention the Geneva convention in a significant step away from earlier EU commitments.

The Baltic Sea Strategy was endorsed, a vague, non-committal document.

If the final hurdles for the Lisbon Treaty are cleared, there will soon be a decision on the new posts. However, dark clouds still loom over the climate negotiations in Copenhagen.


Climate Financing: The 50 Billion-Euro Question

25/10/2009

 

Words can be explosive. Especially if they imply that billions of euro will be transferred from state coffers.

So it should not come as a big surprise that the Swedish government has difficulties in finding agreement on the financing of climate adaptation measures in developing countries. EU Finance Ministers fought about the issue last Tuesday. Now, climate financing is likely to dominate the European Council on Thursday and Friday (together with discussions on the top posts in the Lisbon Treaty).

The draft conclusions for the Summit (prepared for the COREPER meeting last Wednesday) mentions both short-term and long-term costs. Two key sentences illustrate the stakes involved:

 “The European Council appreciates the Commission´s estimate of an overall financing need of EUR 5-7 billion per year for the first three years following an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen and underlines that the EU in this context is ready to contribute its fair share of these costs”

 “The European Council considers that the overall level of the international public support required could lie in the range of EUR 22 to 50 billion per year by 2020, subject to a fair burden sharing at the global level in line with the distribution key agreed by Parties…”

Poland is refusing to agree on concrete numbers without promises that the burden sharing will to a large extent be based on GDP, not only on carbon emissions. Negotiations are further complicated by the fact that Germany is forming a new government.

Billion Euro Baby: Finance Minister Anders Borg is keeping a firm grip on climate negotiations. Photo: Pawel Flato/Government offices

Billion Euro Baby: Finance Minister Anders Borg is keeping a firm grip on climate negotiations. Photo: Pawel Flato/Government offices

Thus, the conclusions are likely to be watered down. That may come at a high price. Climate negotiations are already in crisis, with a close adviser to Fredrik Reinfeldt ruling out a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen. If the EU Summit does not mention ambitious figures on climate financing, it will be even more difficult to achieve a political deal in December that is strong enough.

There are a number of other open issues. What should happen to the `hot air´, the emission allowances not used by countries primarily in Eastern Europe? How will the new system of flexible mechanisms work in practice and how will it be controlled? What criteria should apply for the distribution of financial support to developing counties? Will climate financing be additional to current development assistance?

Agreement at the European Council is further complicated by internal conflicts in the Swedish government. `I hope the rumour is true, that Anders Borg is running the government´, former Finance Minister Pär Nuder said at a seminar about the Government Offices last week. But when it comes to conducting the EU Presidency, a strong Finance Ministry is not always a good idea.

Regarding climate, Finance Minister Anders Borg seems to lack the diplomatic skills needed to find agreement among 27 Member States. Dogmatic instructions from Stockholm are making things difficult in Brussels. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister´s office is weaker this time than in 2001, when State Secretary Lars Danielsson was able to give negotiators clear guidance.

Agreement on climate change in Copenhagen is the Swedish government´s first priority for the EU Presidency. It would have been easier to achieve if Fredrik Reinfeldt had been more active from the start. Instead, the Swedish Prime Minister already in December last year stated that it would be difficult to agree new commitments for emission reductions by developed countries. The government negotiators are accused of trying to accommodate every divergent view instead of showing leadership in the way former chief negotiator Bo Kjellén did. In the important area of `policies and measures´, Sweden has not put forward any innovative proposals.

Some of the criticism might be unjustified. The task is difficult. However, the government has made a number of strategic mistakes. Fredrik Reinfeldt might have to pay a high political price for the lack of a strong agreement in Copenhagen.

Note: The excellent Arte blog on Europe also highlights climate and the Swedish EU Presidency.


The Baltic Sea strategy needs more teeth

20/09/2009

 

If anyone of the delegates to the Baltic Sea meeting this week lost concentration for a second, the mosaic in the Golden Hall might have caught the attention. One of the pictures in this part of Stockholm City Hall recalls Swedish king Karl XII and his war with Russia. The king is standing on the bodies of seven dead people. Orthodox churches are burning behind him.

The Baltic Sea area has not always been as peaceful as today. And relations with Russia are still a key issue, hopefully in a more constructive way than during the reign of Karl XII.

At the meeting, governments discussed the Baltic Sea strategy, one of the key initiatives during the Swedish Presidency. Few ministers were present, with key countries such as Germany and Poland represented by State Secretaries.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt described the importance of the strategy in his initial address. But how concrete will the result be? There are already talking shows enough about regional co-operation.

The Commission proposal is surprisingly vague in areas such as the environment. Key areas such as the financial crisis or the euro entry of the Baltic countries are not covered. Co-operation on the internal market is one of the few issues where there seems to be significant movement forward. Yes, there has also been recent progress on linking electricity grids and limiting phosphates in detergents, but not because of the strategy.

EU governments have strong feelings against additional resources or new institutions. The role of the Commission in the follow-up is still unclear. As Rikard Bengtsson notes in a SIEPS-study, the original European Parliament resolution is stronger.

Rikard Bengtsson also emphasizes the lack of an external dimension, including Russia. I understand this to be one of the most sensitive issues in the Council negotiations. Germany is one of the countries concerned not to alienate Moscow.

After three meeting with the Friends of Presidency group, the strategy will be in COREPER next week. The Presidency plans for conclusions at the Foreign Ministers´ meeting 26 October without debate, and then endorsement by the European Council.

In parallel, Russia is playing its game over the summit with the EU, due to take place in Sweden this autumn. Fredrik Reinfeldt confirmed that there was still no response from Moscow when I asked him Friday morning. He talked about other ways to connect the Baltic Sea Strategy to Russia, mentioning the Council of Baltic Sea States. To me, the Northern Dimension seems a more logical way. But there is also a need for the higher political dialogue at a Summit (which of course also must deal with a number of other issues).

Two possible reasons have been mentioned for Russia withholding its response on the summit. One is the format. The Kremlin might want Dmitrij Medvedev to meet more EU Heads of government than the usual troika. The other reasons mentioned is the negative feelings Carl Bildt has evoked in the Kremlin after his strong (and correct) criticism of Russia´s war in Georgia.

Whatever the reason, the Baltic Sea area is of strategic importance both to the EU and to Russia. This calls for a stronger EU strategy and for a constructive EU-Russia Summit.


Dark clouds gathering over Copenhagen

13/09/2009

 

Recently, a high level Japanese delegation visited Brussels to discuss environmental co-operation. One of the guests confided in a Commission colleague: `The technical parts of the climate negotiations are so complicated. Can´t we do more on common policy measures to achieve clearer results? ´

It is easy to understand the feeling. Negotiations within the climate convention are technically complicated and are proceeding extremely slowly.

An agreement at the December meeting in Copenhagen is the most important goal for the Swedish EU Presidency. But dark clouds are gathering.

Copenhagen harbour. Photo: Stock.xchng

Copenhagen harbour. Photo: Stock.xchng

Few rich countries have matched the EU commitments for 2020. Growing economies like China and India have still not made robust promises on limiting carbon emissions. The declaration from the G8 Summit in Italy did not provide enough momentum. Setting targets for 2050 and making promises on limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C is not enough.

Swedish negotiators are also worried that the United States will not move fast enough this autumn. Barack Obama has to devote so much energy to the fight over health care reform.

The Commission proposal on financing last Thursday will not be enough to bridge the gap between developing and developed countries. It has already been criticized for not containing enough money and not being additional to earlier promises to increase development aid. When EU leaders meet for the informal European Council on Thursday they will discuss the financing in light of the upcoming G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. More needs to be done.

Financing is one key issue, mid-term emission targets another. The risk is that Fredrik Reinfeldt is so eager for a deal in Copenhagen that the Swedish Presidency does not put enough pressure on rich countries to agree robust emission targets. There is a risk than intense corporate lobbying for only setting long-term targets puts negotiations on the more important 2020 targets off track. If there is only a preliminary agreement in December, it must at least contain a commitment to agree targets for the rich countries during the spring of 2010.

It´s time also to put forward more ideas on `policies and measures´, as the term is in the climate convention. The Japanese visitor to Brussels was right. The Swedish Presidency should push both for 2020 emissions targets and for agreements on issues such as energy efficiency standards and renewable energy. Co-operating with the new, environmentally progressive, Japanese government is a promising way forward.