Europe can save the Kyoto Protocol

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Europe should maintain its leadership on climate change and maintain pressure on global partners to save the Kyoto protocol. There are really two paths for Europe, writes climate expert Wendel Trio, either to extend its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol or to move towards ending it.

"Once again headlines in Europe are dominated by an economic crisis that many feel never really left since it began in 2008.  Government leaders are scrambling to keep the European economy from going into freefall and spreading even more hardship than is already being felt by too many.

The crisis may have been born in the USA, but as we now know, the signs of impending crisis were there in the EU. Yet our own legislators failed to legislate, regulators failed to regulate and central banks threw caution to the wind.

The same cannot be said about the EU when it comes to their leadership on climate change, a global issue that increasingly threatens our safety, health and prosperity.  It is here that Europe deserves praise for acknowledging early on the science, the risks, the need for global action and the costs of inaction.  

The EU responded to the threat by championing a multilateral solution, readily signed on to the Kyoto Protocol. It led by example with its own domestic greenhouse gas reduction targets and plans.  But the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, and so it is that in the midst of this acute economic crisis EU leadership needs to turn its attention to the future to best serve Europe's strategic interests.

There are really only two paths available to Europe in Durban – to extend its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol or to move towards ending it.  It should be said that signing up to a second commitment period requires Europe to do nothing more in terms of additional emission reductions.

Europe has already committed to delivering domestic emissions reduction to 2020, well beyond the period of the second commitment.  It can leverage what it is already doing by extending its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and breath life into the UN climate talks. 

By doing so it will build immeasurable goodwill amongst developing nations and breed much needed confidence that a deal involving all major emitting countries can be struck in the next few years. 

Alternatively the EU can follow the US policy lead and end its association with the Kyoto Protocol. Then the world will be left without an international climate law after 2012 and, perhaps most importantly, it will be left without momentum or confidence in international governance to address the pre-eminent global threat of our times. 

The EU’s leadership on climate change has hardly been a diplomatic failure. It has spurred massive investment in renewable energy in Europe and the world over and it has created the framework and architecture for a truly global deal. 

Fifteen years ago the EU decided that the only way it could protect Europe’s interests from the ravages of climate change was to get an international deal – they were right and it remains in their best interests to see that strategy though.

On Monday, Europe's environment ministers will discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol. The question will be whether our environment ministers are prepared to give a sign to the rest of the world that the EU is still prepared to take a leadership role, since Europe's strength is when it is in the driver’s seat rather than in the back row.

Only if the EU gives a clear sign about its readiness to accept a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol will it also be able to ensure the environmental integrity of its rules as well ensuring that all major greenhouse gas emitters will end up in a legally binding regime that will truly contribute to saving our climate and our planet."

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