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.