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.
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.