Ian Duncan: No optimism among EU delegation over draft COP21 deal

Ian Duncan, the lead MEP on the reform of the Emissions Trading System. [Ian Duncan/Flickr]

European Commission officials were so disheartened by negotiations at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21), that they discussed re-writing the slimmed down draft agreement to cap global warming, the lead lawmaker on the reform of the bloc’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) told EURACTIV.

Ian Duncan is a UK Conservative member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Deputy News Editor, James Crisp, at COP21, in Paris. You can listen to the interview on Soundcloud, or read a shorter transcript.


What are your thoughts on the talks so far?

There was extraordinary optimism within the European delegation, both among Commission and Parliament, and now there isn’t. So the major cull of the brackets [dropping of parts of the agreement], when three quarters were broadly resolved in one way or another, actually meant that a number of things the European delegation wanted to see simply disappeared. They include issues around aviation and maritime, differentiation, a way to resolve financing questions in a more encompassing way, that had been slipping away. Concerns about the transparency [of reporting] had. So there were serious concerns, to the extent that for the first time, I heard Commission officials saying we need to rewrite this. That’s a big statement to be making only 48 hours before the moment of agreement.

Are we talking about ripping it up and starting again?

Certainly reinserting bits that had been lost. Broadly, we are back to where we were, which is that the developed countries should contribute and the developing countries should receive. The problem is that in that category, China is a developing nation. You can’t have the second largest economy in the world still being categorised as a developing nation. It makes no sense. But that is what the agreement currently reads.

At the beginning of the week, I was talking about the big two – China and the US. They were wrestling with the text to try and get it into a state that we wanted to see. I was of the view that the EU was largely a bystander. The EU did what it always does. It put its cards face up on the table. The problem with that particular approach is that people look at the cards, and then move on to the serious negotiations.

You’re like being the teetotaller in a brewery – no one wants to dance with you, and no one wants to speak with you. You’re the boring person in the corner. Things have now evolved slightly, the US is beginning to reach out more to the EU, seeing broader alliances on issues such as the 1.5 degree issue. [Some countries are pushing for a 1.5 degree rather than two degree cap on global warming] and some of the issues on funding. But I am still of the view that the final deal will be a reconciliation between what the US wants and what China is willing to tolerate, against a backdrop of the challenge posed by those developing countries which are still dependent on fossil fuels like Malaysia, India and Indonesia.

But the EU isn’t going to walk away from these talks. It’s invested too much.

The EU has a difficulty, because almost all the other parties here are single states. The EU is 28 states, plus a parliament. And it determined its positions in a much more transparent way.

Is that naïve, or is it just how it works?

That’s just how the structure works. You get what it says on the tin. But equally when it comes to serious negotiations, the EU has less ability to give and take and manoeuvre. The Commission is constrained in its negotiations. Their freedom is remarkably constrained.

Will we get a deal, and what does that mean for ETS reform?

I think there will be a deal. The French have played a blinder here. They have determined that they will get serious progress, they set a clear timetable, they have been transparent, they have given the countries chances to debate the issues, and they are determined to reach a deal by close of business Friday.

They are making tough and clear decisions to get that deal done by a deadline, and that is something I think spooked the EU midweek. Some of the things they have sacrificed are the very things that are difficult to resolve, like shipping and maritime. SO a serious issue that needed serious discussion and something the EU was determined to get something out of has simply been taken off the table. But I don’t think you are going to see the EU walk away from the table.

[In the draft] We have a 2 degree limit, “well below 2 degrees”, 1.5 degrees. We are still negotiating over these limits when we know fine well that countries’ climate pledges add up to 2.7.

The 1.5 target seems to have emerged over the last week.

Unexpectedly. It’s interesting to see that both the EU and the US are talking up the 1.5 target far more than might have been anticipated. We may have to consider what that 0.5 degree would mean for our future ambitions. All of the planning for the ETS, for example, has been calibrated on two degrees. 

It’s not yet clear whether it will be a target, or an ambition or a “wouldn’t it be nice”.  And it remains to be seen if it survives the negotiations.

Do you think it has been put out there as a negotiating tactic?

Could be. There are a lot of tactics in play right now. The test will be what emerges at close of play. There’s no doubt there are nations at the sharp end of climate change for whom this is not a question of temperature, but seawater and seawater rising.

It’s a matter of life and death.

Yes. In a changing globe, they are the first climate change migrants.

Is there a reference to carbon markets in the text?

It’s still there just now. I am not sure whether it will survive. I’ve certainly met up with those around the globe who have a functioning carbon market, and they certainly want to see something emerge from Paris.  But if it doesn’t that won’t stop them going forward with it because they see it as a good way to fight climate change and raise cash. All of the people I’ve spoken to from the minister of Manitoba, representatives of South Korea, Arnold Schwarzenegger, are all committed to their own trading schemes.

The question is whether seeing it in the final text of the agreement will give us added impetus to us in the EU to see ourselves as not alone but part of a broader, deeper network of carbon trading. That would be interesting certainly for the negotiations over the reform of ETS with the Council of Ministers. We’re still looking domestically, but it could be a prompt from Paris leads us to think globally – we shall see.

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