EU summit postpones climate decision until June

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Green activists strongly criticised heads of state and government for failing to put concrete sums on the table to help developing countries combat climate change at their meeting last week (19-20 March).

As anticipated, European leaders postponed until June a decision on the EU's position for global climate talks, which are scheduled to conclude in Copenhagen in December (EurActiv 18/03/09).

Meeting in Brussels for last week's spring summit, heads of state and government even appeared to dilute the conclusions drawn up by environment and finance ministers earlier this month by omitting references to potential financing mechanisms.

The summit conclusions merely state that further discussions were needed on international financing mechanisms, and that leaders will determine "well in advance of the Copenhagen conference" the EU's stance on financing approaches, its specific contribution and "principles of burden sharing among member states".

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the European Union should make no commitment "while other nations, notably the United States and China," are not doing the same.

According to one minister, the principles of how the financial burden should be shared between EU member states, a major stumbling block for Poland (EurActiv 10/03/09), should be decided before June.

Financial stimulus takes precedence over climate talks

Instead, European leaders concentrated on measures to tackle the economic crisis, provoking angry comments from green NGOs. Friends of the Earth said while the 27 member states spent most of their time discussing multi-billion euro responses to the financial crisis, it failed to commit a single cent to international efforts to deal with global warming.

WWF argued that while it was understandable that leaders were reluctant to commit resources to third countries at a time of economic downturn, they were fundamentally undermining a future climate agreement by asking for reductions from developing countries without promising help in return.

Stephan Singer, director of WWF's Global Energy Programme, said "turning the responsibility around" by asking developing countries to present proposals to cut their emissions was "a recipe for defeat at the December climate summit in Copenhagen".

Ahead of the summit, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, accused the EU of "backsliding on its promises" made in Bali in 2007.

The clock is ticking

NGOs said Europe was wasting precious time and needed to move faster to make sure that global warming doesn’t exceed 2°C, after which most scientists say its effects could become irreversible.

Greenpeace urged EU ministers to agree a concrete plan for climate financing during the Czech Presidency, and called on the G20 to put climate change higher on its agenda for its meeting in London on 2 April. 

With the delays, however, it now seems that the Swedish Presidency, which assumes the EU helm from the Czechs on 1 July, will be left to finalise the EU's position for Copenhagen. Member states are arguing that it is too early to commit the EU to any specific numbers while the US is still weighing up its options. Oxfam said waiting for the US to make the first move is "far from leadership", something the EU has consistently claimed in the fight against climate change.

"We expect Europe to set the bar on adaptation finance: by remaining silent, there is no pressure on the US to make a strong offer. This makes it harder for progressive voices in the US to drive the agenda forward," said Elise Ford, head of Oxfam International's EU office. Ford urged EU leaders to put pressure on US President Barack Obama regarding emissions and finance during his European visit in April.


For Rebecca Harms, a Green member of the European Parliament, the summit's postponement of key decisions came as a sign that Europe was losing its leadership on global climate policy. "We are witnessing an embarrassing reversal of roles. The US and some Asian countries are showing real climate leadership, realising the clear compatibility between climate policies and the economic recovery, while the EU becomes the new hesitant partner in the process."

Claude Turmes, another Green MEP, added: "An uncompetitive Europe already lost out in the last industrial revolution when US companies mopped up the world IT innovation market. As the green-tech revolution enters full swing, we must match Obama's level of commitment, not stand by and admire his vision." 

Joris den BlankenGreenpeace EU's climate and energy policy director, accused the EU of wasting three months until the June summit. "The EU has agreed it must repay its carbon debt, but developing nations are going to think twice about joining a global climate agreement without concrete financial commitments from rich countries. You cannot start negotiating about who should contribute what to tackle climate change unless there is money on the table," he said.

Sonja Meister, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said the EU's inaction was now turning into deliberate blocking of progress. "Europe must start to pay its climate debts and come up with at least 35 billion euro now," she said.

Stephan Singer, director of WWF's Global Energy Programme, said it was "time to re-state the fundamentals of a successful global climate deal in Copenhagen". "Strong EU leadership includes ambitious targets and funding. Unfortunately at the moment we are far from that," he added.

Elise Ford, head of Oxfam International's EU office, accused the EU of double standards. "The EU says it will pay its fair share of adaptation monies needed by poor countries, but instead of putting numbers down and building trust, it's using the issue as a bargaining chip. This is just another example of the EU back-pedalling on the fragile agreement struck in Bali, where rich countries agreed to action on adequate and predictable financial resources," she said.

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