Natural environment  |  Publications  |  06.03.2012

European Climate Leadership: Durban and beyond

Looking ahead from the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Summit (COP 15) Hans Verolme, the author of this publication by the Heinrich Boell Stiftung discusses the question of Europe maintaining its leading role in combating climate change. He offers an optimistic outlook on the process and argues that although the Durban Climate Change Conference (COP 17) may not have solved all existing problems it was a step in the right direction. 

Despite the positive tone, the author admits that a celebration of a success in Durban, especially  in the light of the meager promises made for future negotiations, would be an “irrational exuberance”.  Any new rules meant to tackle climate change are very unlikely to be stricter, since profit is still seen as more important than the preservation of environmental integrity. Nevertheless, one important progress made in the conference was the recognition of the need of equitable effort sharing with the developing countries. The author believes that Europe has to build trust in its partners by fully exploring the issues of equity, capabilities and historically and differentiated responsibilities in sharing the burden of the effects of climate change. The ambitions for a successful agreement on climate change can only be achieved trough an iterative and transparent negotiating process, that includes careful consideration of what is everyone’s “fair share”. 

The Caratgena Dialogue, a group of both developed and developing countries that was founded in March 2010 is a promising development that brings together many countries with high ambitions in the fight against climate change. Discussion and dialogue are put forward here rather than brinksmanship and vetoes. It is acknowledged that progress may require tailor-made solutions that reflect the vastly different circumstances, capacities and vulnerabilities of the different countries.  

It is the role of Europe, Verolme argues, to come together with the least developed countries and the small island states which are most affected by climate change consequences and to build an alliance against climate change. With this goal in mind, Europe has a responsibility to keep the leading role in climate negotiations. 

This is however  problematic, as there is no coherent climate vision in the EU-27.  Although the original goals of a reduction of 20% of greenhouse gas emissions do not represent a problem, there is an opposition in Italy and the Visegrád Group (Czech Republic, Hungary Poland and Slovakia) as well as in some of the business lobby groups, when it comes to raising these goals to a level that would be necessary to reduce global warming considerably. 

It is therefore important to share the costs and benefits of the reducing of CO2 emissions between the EU Member States and keep the leading role in green technology since Europe anyway depends on innovation and its knowledge-intensive economy to be competitive in the global market economy. 

The study concludes that the EU can still be at the forefront of climate change negotiations and that it can be successful on this front. But it needs to take action soon and decisively, since there is “no Plan B for the planet”.  

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