For the European Union it was a depressing end to the year! Gone were all hopes of providing global leadership at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. The EU found itself helpless on the sidelines as the US president, constrained by a sceptical Congress, confronted a Chinese prime minister apparently determined to reject any binding commitments which might set limits to China’s CO2 emissions over the next 40 years.
The Copenhagen Accord, put together at a meeting between the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, seemed more wishful thinking than a blueprint for the future.
President Barroso put a brave face on it, describing the outcome as a positive step, “but below our ambitions”. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said it would not solve the climate change threat to mankind. The first test will come during January 2010 when developed countries publish their targets for emissions beyond 2020 and major emerging economies make voluntary pledges.
What will be the implications for European policy, I wonder? Instead of the 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 the EU presumably sticks to 20 per cent. If there is no global commitment to a plus-two-degree temperature ceiling, no binding reductions for 2050, and the prospects of soaring emissions elsewhere in the world, how can the EU and its 27 member states convince the people of Europe to make the sacrifices needed to achieve a low-carbon economy? I wouldn’t want to hold a referendum on the subject!
Maybe the next 12 months will deliver where Copenhagen failed. Maybe the experience of the world’s leaders getting together in Copenhagen will produce results. Maybe there will be progress in Bonn at the beginning of June leading to the UN climate change conference in Mexico City in December. Maybe. But for this is to happen will require fundamental change in the positions of other players.
The EU played its part in seeking an agreement at Copenhagen. It put money on the table, committed itself to more technology transfer and was willing to accept binding emissions targets, but it strikes me that the EU now has to toughen up its international negotiating stance on political, trade and aid issues. It has the institutions for joined-up external relations policies which reflect its economic importance; climate change is one of the first policy areas where these new capabilities should be mobilised.
Europe is after all a key market for the goods produced in emerging markets: we get the benefits in cheap and abundant products, but at what cost to our long-term wellbeing? The rejection of any binding long-term commitments could affect everyone. Flooding, drought, hunger and mass migration on other continents would have consequences for Europe. EU leaders should put on the pressure to retrieve what was lost in Copenhagen.