Rhein on Energy and Climate

The European Council Conclusions of 25/26 March 2010 devote four of their 15 points to climate change and the “need to refocusing our efforts after Copenhagen”. The wording of the text shows that Heads of government have not spared one minute of their two days` deliberations for climate policy. They had more “urgent tasks” to resolve, from the Greek financial crisis to the EU 2020 strategy.

Climate policy is not popular; so better not speak of it and definitely not come with new proposals for climate taxes. President Sarkozy had to realise this in his failure to win the regional elections with a platform for a C02 tax. The EU has done its home work in December 2008. Let others follow. In the present economic situation the majority of member countries are not prepared to go beyond. It will even be difficult for some of them to make the imposed home work.

The real issue in 2010 is not what the EU should do internally but how it should re-assume international leadership. The script the bureaucracy has written for the European Council is not very convincing. It is simply more of the same, as if the EU had not drawn any lessons from the Copenhagen failure. Why does the European Council state that it “is firmly committed to the UNFCCC process”, though this process has been totally ineffective, despite endless ministerial meeting, to prevent the global climate from deteriorating,

The European Council Conclusions sound hollow when they stipulate that “it is now necessary to bring a new dynamic to the international negotiation process”. It is not apparent how to build on the “Copenhagen Accord, “which should be swiftly implemented”.

Implementing the Copenhagen Accord will not stop further deterioration of global climate condition. Despite scientific agreement on the need for reducing global emissions until 2020 by 25-40 percent over the 1990 reference level, only the EU, Norway and Iceland have announced quantitative emission targets of at least 20 percent. The two biggest emitter countries – USA and China – have made derisory commitments. The USA targets a reduction of 3.7 percent over 1990; China refuses to indicate any target for its 2020 emissions. Instead, it aims at reducing its GDP energy intensity by 40-45 percent. Depending on its future economic growth this target might imply a reduction of 15 percent if economic growth were to slump and an increase of 204 percent (!), if economic growth were to spiral off as in the last decade.

The European Council seems to ignore the basic flaws of the Copenhagen Accord; it remains silent on the crucial issue of how to prod key emitter countries to improve their reduction or stabilisation efforts. Instead, the Conclusions expand on the well-known issues from Copenhagen, above all short and medium financing for developing countries.

It may still be true that a global legal agreement remains the only effective way to reach the agreed objective of staying below 2°C increase in global temperatures. But that objective will only be achieved if the agreement contains convincing targets and, more important actions, for reducing emissions by the main emitter countries – USA, China, EU, Russia, Brazil, India, Canada, GCC, Australia and South Korea

It is dangerous to go into an international negotiation without a clear idea of what to achieve.

The Council Conclusions give the impression that the EU is more interested in having an international agreement that pleases developing countries than one that one that mitigates climate change. It is therefore imperative for the European Council to clarify the EU negotiation objectives and devote several hours of intensive discussion to what is after all the crucial international issue of the 21st century.

Eberhard Rhein – Brussels 29.03.10

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