Wijkman: ‘Better no deal than bad deal’ in Copenhagen

anders_wijkman_big.jpg

The world cannot afford to lock itself into a bad climate agreement for the next ten years, argues Anders Wijkman, a Swedish centre-right member of the European Parliament. Speaking to EURACTIV in an interview, he said the UNFCCC should postpone agreeing a successor to the Kyoto Protocol should the preconditions for a good agreement not be met.

Anders Wijkman has been a Swedish centre-right (EPP-ED) MEP since 1999. He mainly works on environmental and climate issues.

To read a shortened version of the interview, please click here.

As the first round of UNFCCC climate talks before Copenhagen draws to close, what is your opinion on the state of the negotiations? Has Bonn brought the world any closer to agreement? 

The Bonn meeting, as I understand, has not achieved much yet [3 April]. I think the main reason why there is little progress is on the one hand that the US administration is very new, and it takes time for them to come up to speed, and the other reason is of course that Annex I countries – and in particular the European Union – have failed to put any real proposals on the table with regard to how to finance adaptation, how to finance technology cooperation, how to finance forest protection. All those three areas are linked, as forests are part of mitigation and forests are part of adaptation.

So you think the EU’s contribution so far has been disappointing?

Yes. I think our decision in December on the energy and climate package was a step in the right direction, although many of us feel it was too little [and] should have been more ambitious. There were a lot of loopholes, auctioning was postponed, [there was] too high a degree of offsetting, etc. But that was a step in the right direction.

But for the last eighteen months at least, the EU Commission and government leaders have been indicating that no later than March this year, they will tackle the whole issue of funding and financing of climate work in developing countries, and they failed to say anything two weeks ago. I think that’s really, really bad, because as long as there is no movement there, why should developing countries commit themselves to any emission reductions or any efforts to reduce emissions compared to business as usual?

Do you expect that funding proposals will be made in June, as promised by EU leaders at the spring summit?

I hope so, but we were hoping very much it would happen in March, and for some reason it did not happen.

I think many of us are very disappointed that no more has happened.

Do you believe a detailed agreement will emerge from Copenhagen, or only a framework to be fleshed out in 2010, as the UN’s executive secretary of the UNFCCC Yvo de Boer has suggested?

I will put it this way: if the preconditions for a good agreement are not there, we’d better postpone a final agreement. Nobody is interested in locking the world into a ten-year agreement which does not meet the requirements.

I think it’s really a balancing act, and that’s why I’m so disappointed that nothing has been said in detail on financing climate-change activities in developing countries.

These negotiations take time, and to build trust and to build this kind of an agreement, we cannot deliver or offer things in the final hour. It should be a more organised and more structured process.

I would say, better no deal in Copenhagen if it’s a bad deal. 

What do you think about the draft climate bill that came out of the US House of Representatives, and which is actually more ambitious with its short-term targets than President Barack Obama’s proposals so far?

It’s not ambitious enough. What both EU and US political leaders seem to forget is that with the proposals that are now on the table, Obama and even the Waxman-Markey proposal and the EU proposal, there is no way we are going to meet the 2°C target.

The US, including the president and Todd Stern, who is his negotiator: they seem to imply the most important thing is to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 and it’s not important what happens until 2020.

Unfortunately they are wrong, because emissions stay in the atmosphere for such a long period of time. If we accumulate another 25-35 ppm in the next ten years, it’s going to be very, very difficult to take them out of the atmosphere again.

If we have as little ambitious targets for 2020 as with the EU decision and the US plan now, it is going to be almost impossible to do what is required.

I think the Waxman-Markey bill is very good as a first step, but they have to be more ambitious up to 2020.

You are president of GLOBE EU, an international environmental network of parliamentarians, which last month launched the International Commission on Climate and Energy Security. How does this format contribute to the negotiations towards a global climate deal in Copenhagen?

What we have done over the last three years and what we continue to do is to meet regularly under the GLOBE umbrella with legislators from all the major industrial countries, including China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. 

The idea is to try to reach agreement on all the critical issues in that group. And you can imagine it’s not easy with for instance Chinese delegates, but we have been able to agree on a number of things. The hope is then that our colleagues in other parts of the world will convey those messages and put pressure on their own governments. 

Our simple assumption is that international policymaking on global environmental issues should not be left to governments and diplomats alone. The directly elected representatives of the people, that is to say legislators, should be more involved, because right now we are only involved at the end, when treaties are going to be ratified. Then they need the parliaments. Why not involve us in the process?

Are you stepping up cooperation as Copenhagen draws closer?

Yes, we are. We have two parallel commissions working. One on land use, forests and ecosystems, and one on climate and energy security. The next meeting we are going to have is a few days before the G8 meeting in Rome. Then we’re going to have a major meeting in Copenhagen in October.

This is quite significant. The leading players in the European Parliament on climate change and energy are all GLOBE members, so we have a very good network in the European Parliament.

The International Commission on Climate and Energy Security had its first meeting in Washington at the end of March. What came out of that?

We dealt with a lot of issues, but one issue was the question of the stimulus packages and how important it is to use all this money that is now being spent to try to bring back the economies into normal function, to spend it on investments, which would bring down carbon. 

There are two reasons for that. The first is that we don’t want to go back to normal and have the same kind of growth. We want to have low-carbon growth in the economy. The second point is that when the credit institutions, banks and financial institutions more or less collapsed over the last five to six months, credits for a number of renewable energy projects have just dried up, meaning that there is far too little effort now to expand renewable energy. 

Much of the investments have almost stopped or at least they are stalled. That’s why it’s so important to use public sector money to bring this back into motion.

Throughout your career in the European Parliament, you have worked on environmental and climate issues. However, you’ll be stepping down as an MEP this year. Will you continue to work on these issues elsewhere?

I am vice-president of the Club of Rome, so I will of course continue. I have devoted the last 25 years of my life to environment and development, so I will continue to do that.

I will miss the European Parliament a lot of course, because it’s a very dynamic environment. But ten years is a long time, and the constant travelling almost kills you.

Do you think the past ten years have brought radical changes to EU policies, or do you think the EU and the Parliament in particular could have done better? 

I think there is still too little understanding that you need another type of growth. The conventional growth agenda should be dead. To assume that society is making progress just because consumption is going up is utterly flawed.

We need to measure not only quantity but quality, and we need to look very carefully not only at climate-related problems, but also resource use in general. Around the world, the major ecosystems are overused, and we cannot continue like that.

Would you say the Lisbon agenda is not quite on the right track in that sense?

The Lisbon agenda is too narrow. It must be merged with a sustainable development agenda. Energy and resource efficiency has to be the number one issue, because that is the critical issue for the future.

Unless we are clever and intelligent and take action for a different kind of economy, there will be walls around resources, and climate change will accelerate. The choice is very simple, and I’m sorry to say that there is too little recognition of this. In my own political group, many of my colleagues have not really grasped the seriousness of the issue.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe