De Boer: EU 2020 climate targets ‘a piece of cake’


Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said the EU has failed to convince the developing world that it is serious about global warming.

Speaking in an unusually candid manner during a European Parliament hearing on Wednesday (14 April), De Boer said the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen last year had been dominated by a sense of "suspicion".

The December UN conference ended with a loose agreement, the Copenhagen Accord, which left Europeans "disappointed" because it contained no firm commitment from world nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"A lot of the reason why this process has been moving so slowly is because of suspicion, especially on the part of developing counties," said De Boer, who will step down from the UNFCCC in July to take an advising role at consulting firm KPMG.

"Trust just isn't there."

European leaders routinely refer to the EU's 2020 target to reduce emissions by 20% on 1990 levels as the most ambitious in the world.

But the UN climate chief suggested that the target will in fact be easy to achieve, raising suspicion from developing countries that it is only a smokescreen.

"Many of the discussions that you have in Europe are not terribly private," he said. "And the rest of the world knows that the European Commission said to EU countries that achieving the minus 20% was a piece of cake and that achieving minus 30% isn't going to ruin the European economy."

"So countries in the rest of the world are asking themselves: 'If that's true, then why is this minus 30 now being taken off the table?'"

EU divided over move to 30%

The WWF's Stefan Singer says the EU will easily reach its 20% objective for 2020, thanks mainly to the de-industrialisation that has taken place in ex-Soviet states since the fall of communism and offset projects in developing countries (EURACTIV 14/04/09).

Moreover, emissions dropped steeply last year – by 11% – due to the economic recession, making the 2020 objective that much easier to attain (EURACTIV 2/04/10).

But the EU's possible move to a 30% reduction target for 2020 is causing internal divisions among the 27 member states, with Eastern European countries saying the EU must first analyse how other countries' pledges compare before making a decision.

By contrast, the European Commission and most Western EU member states including the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, argue that the move to 30% will stimulate green economic growth and innovation, creating new jobs along the way.

"If Europe is a strong believer in the green economic growth story, then those targets are imperative to achieve that sense of change of direction," De Boer stressed.


De Boer said another major point of contention relates to the 100 billion dollars in annual climate aid that industrialised countries pledged for poor nations in Copenhagen.

"Is that going to be climate-wash or real and additional finance?" he asked. "Quite frankly, the track record is not quite there [to prove it]," he said.

Under existing arrangements, developing countries were asked to produce technology need assessments in their effort to fight climate change, De Boer explained. But these were rarely followed up and the promised funding was kept under wraps for the most part.

"Many among developing nations feel, with some justification, that these financial resources are not being provided. And that if financial resources are provided, they are often 'climate-wash'," he said, meaning development assistance re-labelled as climate aid. "So the money that was originally intended for poverty eradication now magically becomes climate change money."

To break the deadlock, De Boer suggests giving developing countries responsibility for managing the aid. "What they would really like to see is that these huge sums of money are going to be distributed according to the priorities of the countries rather than according to the priorities of the donators."

His proposal is to create a financial governance mechanism at the next UN summit in Cancún "that will really give developing countries the feeling that they are in control or in co-control of the money that is intended to help them green their economic growth".

According to the Dutchman, developing countries are ready to accept that the money will be channelled through existing institutions like the World Bank, regional development banks or cooperation agencies.

Kyoto pledges not met

Speaking in the European Parliament, De Boer said the sense of suspicion had been heightened by the fact that industrialised nations had shown little willingness to meet their emission reduction pledges under the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

"The first suspicion relates to the fact that, yes, although Europe as a whole is on track to meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, there are individual countries within the European Union which are having a little more difficulty – at least for the time being – achieving their targets under Kyoto."

Although the EU as a whole is set to overshoot its collective emission reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol, a recent report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) showed the 'older' EU-15 member states will fall short of their targets without new policies or offset credits (EURACTIV 13/11/09).

Moreover, under the UNFCCC, rich countries were supposed to return their emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, De Boer said. "But in fact, only four individual countries met that goal," he pointed out.

De Boer singled out Canada, which announced it will not meet its Kyoto target but nevertheless refuses to withdraw from the treaty. Developing countries have not heard any reaction to that statement, De Boer said, adding to their suspicion. 

"So there is not that much confidence that industrialised countries will meet their targets under the Kyoto Protocol," he explained.

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The Copenhagen conference in December 2009 was designed to achieve a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

But after two weeks of extenuating talks, world leaders delivered an agreement that left Europeans disappointed, as it did not include binding commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions (EURACTIV 19/12/09).

The face-saving deal, dubbed the 'Copenhagen Accord', established a goal to keep global temperature rises below 2°C in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Copenhagen Accord prescribed that developed countries would provide close to $30 billion in so-called 'fast-start' aid for developing countries for 2010-2012, rising to $100 billion a year by 2020.


  • 31 May-11 June: Next session of UN climate talks in Bonn.
  • Second half of 2010: Two additional UN meetings.
  • 29 Nov.–10 Dec.: UN climate conference in Cancún, Mexico.

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