Analysis: The European Union and Climate Change

Mari Shibata - International News Editor 5 November 2009

On Friday 30th October, leaders of the European Union gathered in Brussels for a two-day summit; environmental issues were on the top of the agenda ahead of the United Nations Copenhagen summit in December. The EU said that it will be necessary to donate between 22 billion and 50 billion Euros a year from all countries to meet the estimated 100 billion Euros of public funding for mitigation and adaptation needed by 2020.

However, there have been concerns that the EU did not fix a precise annual contribution; the E.U. would pay its “fair share” conditional on donations from other nations. Mr. Reinfeldt announced that EU nations could make a voluntary contribution to a “fast-track” scheme to reduce carbon emissions that would make funds immediately available to developing countries. This is due to come in after the Copenhagen summit and would cost 5 billion to 7 billion Euros for richer countries.

That proposed target will be difficult to meet if Mr. Reinfeldt insists that these funding targets would be conditional and he opposes funding from private sources. A World Bank report issued last month calculates a need for 75-100 billion dollars annually for adaptation in the developing world from 2010. An excerpt from the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook released this month estimated 110 billion dollars per year for clean energy measures that would put developing countries on the road to emission levels likely to avoid “dangerous” climate change. These estimates together come to a total of 200 billion dollars.

The Green bloc of the European Parliament and environmental groups has criticized this outcome; they say leaders have chosen vague, global figures. Sonja Meister, a climate campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe, said, “In every way the EU is shirking its historical responsibilities and blocking progress towards the just and fair agreement the world needs in Copenhagen.” Joris den Blanken of environmental group Greenpeace has suggested that “President Barack Obama should now step up and break the deadlock in negotiations.”

However, when placing the problem in an international context, you cannot expect the EU to be concrete with its measures. The American government is busy meddling with domestic political concerns at this particular point in time. In addition, Japan’s new government will not be in a position to make pledges until January 2010. No wonder then that the more developed developing countries won’t make promises if these richer governments haven’t.¬†And if a Copenhagen deal isn’t possible without some concrete financial decisions, how are the measures going to be pursued?

Despite these pitfalls, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the agreement was “an important breakthrough that brings new momentum” and that the EU nations had “agreed a negotiating mandate” for the climate change talks. He has called E.U. leaders to make an offer of up to 15 billion Euros annually by 2020. He also hopes to meet Barack Obama next week to “make Copenhagen a success”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke along the same lines, expressing hope that Europe as “industrialized nations” will lead the way to agreeing a successor accord to the Kyoto Protocol. However, EU officials have said that she, who had been reticent over making any European commitment, had been persuaded by the fact that the figures were only conditional on steps being taken by other nations. Now that Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic has ratified the Lisbon Treaty, the EU can soon attempt to take the centre stage on climate change while carrying these financial concerns.

Mari Shibata – International News Editor