Exorcising Copenhagen’s ghost

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

The EU was ''traumatised'' by being excluded from last-minute negotiations at the Copenhagen climate summit last year and will need to work hard in Cancún to regain its influence in climate diplomacy, writes Richard Youngs, director of Madrid-based think-tank FRIDE.

This opinion piece, authored by Richard Youngs, was sent to EURACTIV by FRIDE.

''Last year's ill-starred Copenhagen climate change summit traumatised the European Union. The EU's exclusion from last-minute haggling between the US and rising powers encapsulated incipient fears over Europe's declining international influence. At the follow-on Cancún summit now under way, the EU will need to work hard to regain its authority in climate diplomacy.

Several trends since Copenhagen suggest progress will be harder, not easier, this year. China and India are more ebullient and even more likely to resist binding targets. China has offered energy deals to other states in return for their support in climate change talks. Under Tea Party influence, many in the United States are sliding back into denial mode. Enlightened and far-sighted European leadership is even more necessary. The Lisbon Treaty has created a new climate action directorate. Cancún will represent its first big test.

A comprehensive, binding deal on emissions reductions is unlikely at Cancún. The focus will be more modest. One priority is to boost climate finance to help poorer countries adapt to climate change imperatives. Another is to agree on mechanisms for monitoring states' implementation of their national emissions reductions programmes.

The EU can make a valuable contribution to this more modest agenda. But it needs to move up a gear. The EU is not yet on target to meet its commitment on 'fast start' climate financing for developing countries. It raised hackles on Cancún's first day by revealing that half its fast-start funding will take the form of loans and private equity instead of grants.  

The EU must resist the temptation simply to divert existing development aid or to use the climate adaptation agenda as a covert means of introducing new forms of conditionality and even trade barriers. Any future taxes on banks could be ring-fenced for climate adaptation. The EU should also be much more generous on its conditions for sharing green technology with developing states.

In May this year, the Commission produced a thorough review that argued against moving unilaterally from the 20 to a 30% emissions reduction target. This decision should be revisited. The recession has helped progress towards existing targets, leaving greater scope for more ambitious ones. Some member states, like the UK, have already moved to the higher 30% target, in binding fashion. These moves should be Europeanised if the EU as a whole is to retain credible climate leadership.

European has lost ground in green technology. China and the US have stolen a clear lead. Investors now rank European states' attractiveness as locations for renewable projects far lower. Policymakers place great stress on green growth in leading Europe out of recession and creating 700,000 new jobs. But much work remains to be done if these optimistic predictions are to materialise.

The Commission has recently relaxed state aid rules to facilitate public investment in carbon capture and storage. The Commission's new NER300 initiative is the largest programme to date of investment in renewable demonstration projects. But national champion-type industrial strategy must not return in a protectionist fashion that undermines market dynamism and competition.

The EU relies on its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to deliver nearly 70% of its emission cuts and seeks to extend this as a model to developing states. The fact that civil aviation will be brought into the ETS from 2012 is an important step forward. But there are also signs of the EU resisting further widening of the ETS. Allowances not allocated due to the recession will simply be carried forward; this suggests progress towards targets registered this year does not reflect underlying structural advance. Going slow on the ETS is a temptation, of course, as the US and others drag their feet and the EU thus frets about carbon leakage. But it is not a long-term solution. 

If Cancún fails to deliver even on its slimmed-down agenda, countries will begin to look outside the UN framework for solutions. This may enable some short-term gains but would hardly augur well for longer-term solutions. The EU may be justified in arguing it is not principal guilty party in the current impasse. But the more it delivers, the greater will be its leverage to ensure that the multilateral route retains some traction. If it fails in this, the ghost of Copenhagen will be returning to haunt the halls of Brussels for many years to come.''

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