Europe, slightly losing its climate cool

Europe has long viewed itself as a leader in tackling climate change, with deeper emissions cuts promised than any comparable developed world power. But in the aftermath of Copenhagen, its confidence is crumbling somewhat.

Some of the tension is over the bloc’s variable commitment on those cuts – either 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020, or 30 per cent if an agreement was struck at Copenhagen. Discussions on whether that 30 per cent should be offered have continued since the conference ended with a weaker agreement than many had hoped for. Poland and Italy, as Bloomberg reports, oppose raising the targets while the UK, France and Germany want to keep holding out the promise. France, meanwhile, is keen on a carbon border tax, something the broader EU appears less keen on.

Meanwhile the fact that Europe wasn’t even in the room when the Copenhagen Accord was being thrashed out between the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, continues to grate.

Connie Hedegaard, the Danish climate change minister and designated EU climate action chief, voiced these doubts clearly at her appearance before MEPs on Friday. From the EUobserver:

“A lot of Europeans in the room is not a problem, but there is only an advantage if we sing from same hymn sheet. We need to think about this and reflect on this very seriously, or we will lose our leadership role in the world.”

Hedegaard wondered if the EU had taken too long to come up with its climate financing proposal, for transferring funds from developed to developing countries to help avoid and adapt to climate change – although ironically, this turned out to be a relatively successful component of the talks, with the US and Japan also agreeing on headline contributions.

Many commentators and participants in the Copenhagen conference have complained that the process was far to unwieldy, and that effective commitments could be reached more quickly by carrying out discussions among the key polluters.

The Major Economies’ Forum, recast somewhat under the Obama administration, is one option which the US has already shown an interest in using for more concise climate talks. The G20 is another that has been suggested. And the Copenhagen Accord was essentially struck by the leaders of just five countries- the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa.

Hedegaard however isn’t keen on it:

As for the next steps, Ms Hedegaard warned against abandoning the UN process despite some countries, including the US, saying it is unrealistic to try and reach an accord among 190 states.

“Some ask: ‘Shouldn’t we give up on the UN process?’ I say: ‘No.’ We would waste too much work,” she said.

Hedgegaard made the comments to MEPs during her appearance before MEPs at the European Parliament, part of the approval process for her appointment. She looks very likely to succeed, reportedly “winning over” the MEPs.

Related links:

Europe not liking the possibility of carbon trade wars (FT Energy Source, )
Planet B (The Economist, 30/12/09)

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