Is the EU about to stuff it up on international climate change (again)?

by | May 8, 2012


So near, and yet so far – as so often in EU climate policy. Back in December of last year, at the Durban climate summit, it looked as though the EU was finally getting on the front foot and managing to set the agenda for once on international climate policy.

Where the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit had seen the EU and its partners badly outflanked by a low ambition consensus of the US and the BASIC countries (leading to a voluntary pledge-and-review approach rather than the binding targets-and-timetables approach that the EU wanted), it appeared at the 2011 Durban summit that a new dynamic might be emerging – based on a partnership between the EU and low income countries who were not only increasingly focusing on global mitigation scenarios, but also increasingly prepared to break ranks with the G77 and speak out about the need for emerging economies to do more to reduce their own emissions.

The surprising spectacle of the EU managing to gets its act together will have made many US and emerging economy policymakers sit up and take notice. But all of them will also have been wondering whether the EU and its partners would manage to build on this initial success and turn it in to an inflection point on the global climate agenda, with the new alliance not only maintaining political momentum, but also converting it into design principles for future climate policy.

Alas, the signs now emerging are not good if this Reuters piece today is to be believed:

The European Union recommitted to providing 7.2 billion euros ($9.4 billion) for the Green Climate Fund over 2010-12, according to draft conclusions seen by Reuters ahead of a meeting of EU finance ministers next week. But after that, how much cash will flow is unclear as the text, drafted against the backdrop of acute economic crisis in the euro zone, states the need to “scale up climate finance from 2013 to 2020”, but does not specify how.

The article goes on to detail that EU ministers are arguing over how much of the money should come from public and how much from private sources – needless to say, many ministers would find it a lot easier to exhort the private sector to do more than to do pony up the cash themselves.

Although the article doesn’t name names on which countries are causing the problems, it’s a fair bet that Poland figures prominently among them, especially given that Poland vetoed plans for the EU to adopt a 30% (rather than merely 20%) emissions reduction target by 2020. In the background, there’s the further problem that Italy and Spain – two countries who in the past tended to side with calls for more ambitious action – are likely to fall away as their economies implode.

Although the Green Climate Fund is far from being the biggest issue on the climate negotiating table, it matters a lot to many low income countries. If the EU looks like it can’t be trusted to stick with them on the issues they really mind about most, then it’s hard to see an EU-low income country alliance setting the pace on the larger global climate agenda over the next couple of years – and we can look forward to lots of crowing from emerging economies made gleeful by the opportunity to argue that this is what happens when G77 solidarity is allowed to fracture.

Author

  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.


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