Opinion of the EESC on International Climate policy post-Copenhagen

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Opinion of the EESC on International Climate policy post-Copenhagen

(Full opinion at the end of this page)

1. Conclusions

1.1 The initial reaction to the Copenhagen Accord was one of profound disappointment at the failure to reach a general agreement on targets and measures for combating global warming. However, on closer inspection, it does deliver some advances not only toward the goal of keeping any increase in temperature to below 2°C compared with the pre-industrial era, but also in making progress possible on both technology transfers and funding for developing countries and on more specific agreements on the use of land and forestry. Its conclusions now need to be built on in the next rounds of negotiation in Cancun and South Africa.

1.2 Even so, it would be difficult to see this as a success for European Union diplomacy. The diplomatic service must consider redirecting its strategy. The setting-up of the new diplomatic service following the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon may well change the political landscape within the Commission. Be that as it may, the unilateral commitment to cut emissions by 20%, or even 30%, in 2020 failed to achieve the desired effect or to secure a binding agreement. The fact of the matter is that our partners are extremely pragmatic and are wary of anything that smacks of declarations of principle behind which lurk regulation and possible impediments. This remains the case even if the goal of limiting temperature increase to 2° as a matter of principle was accepted in the end.

1.3 The European Union was not very successful or influential in the Copenhagen negotiations, partly because its ambitions were too great for many other countries to follow at this stage, and partly because of some scepticism amongst others about the deliverability of the European targets. The EU should now focus on tangible ways of reaching the carbon reduction goals that it has set itself at the same time as (and as part of) reviving its economy. Demonstrable success in this double endeavour would bolster its credibility and influence in the international negotiations.

While sticking firm on decisions already taken, especially on the energy/climate package, the European Union should:

  • commit itself, in line with the proposal from the Environment Ministers of Germany, France and the UK, to an early tightening of its CO2 target for 2020 to achieve a 30% reduction by that date instead of the present 20% commitment if the economic and social conditions allow it without loss of competitiveness and provided that it is indeed coupled with the necessary measures and investment to achieve it. The fact that, due to the economic crisis, emissions in the EU have fallen sharply is not itself sufficient reason to aim for a higher reduction target, because emissions can rise again in an economic recovery;
  • mobilise and coordinate Community and national research capabilities in new low-carbon technologies and in the sphere of energy efficiency. The aim is to arrive at a better allocation of resources in order to be more effective and so demonstrate that, behind the political declarations and the legislation, the resources necessary for tangible action are indeed being mobilised. It is also crucial to ensure a close cooperation between research and economic actors like industry and agriculture so that promising technologies can be swiftly brought to the market;
  • - be more modest in what it says so that our partners do not get the impression that we are seeking to force upon them a European model that we consider to be exemplary;
  • - focus its diplomatic efforts – as we await a global agreement – on more sectoral agreements in areas such as management of land and forests, technology transfers (while making sure we do not lose our comparative advantage in this sphere), a system of monitoring and evaluating commitments, financial assistance and ways of allocating it. The international climate and forest conference held in Oslo in May is a good example of a successful initiative;
  • pursue active diplomacy – with backing from the Member States – vis-à-vis the USA, Russia and the BASIC group, since any worldwide agreement is a non-starter without the United States and the other large countries;
  • act as a driving force in bilateral and multilateral negotiations in forums other than the UN in order to pave the way for a worldwide agreement. All this should be done with a keen eye for transparency in order to avoid disquieting some countries who may fear that ready-made solutions are being foisted upon them;
  • pursue an ambitious European policy – given the major investments in the green economy made by China, the United States and South Korea – if we are to be the engines of tomorrow's economy and if we are adamant about retaining our competitive edge and not becoming dependent on patents, know-how and technologies owned by others. Emission-reduction goals can be useful instruments, but they are not enough to secure the technological leap needed to usher in a truly sustainable development.

1.4 To back up its diplomatic endeavours, the European Union should also mobilise organised civil society in order to make public opinion aware of the need for our society to waste fewer natural resources and use more renewable ones, and for us all as individuals to adopt a more public-spirited outlook.