Climate Justive vs. A Deal in Kopenhagen

Article by Roderick Kefferpütz and Claude Weinber, hbf Europe in Brussels

Negotiations for a post-2012 international climate change agreement are in full swing. Delirious negotiators are racking up their frequent flyer ‘carbon’ miles and this is set to continue; recent negotiations in Bonn were so unsuccessful that government officials do not even hide their displeasure at the fact that they will have to return to the city during their August vacation to spend more time in the familiar confines of the Maritim Hotel.

This lack of progress demonstrates the fragility of the climate talks. Negotiating positions are hardening and key issues such as financing and technology transfer continue to be closely guarded secrets. The rift between developed, emerging and developing countries is clearly widening.

In this context, the European Union is, amongst others, playing a crucial role as a consensus-builder. Its overall objective is to facilitate an international deal that keeps global warming below 2 degrees and includes all of the climate heavyweights stretching from the United States, Brazil and Canada to China, Russia and India whilst maintaining the fragile consensus among the 27 member states. This role is not an unnatural one for the EU given its experience of shared sovereignty and compromise, and this is well-reflected in its negotiating position.

The European Union has committed itself to a 20 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target by 2020, and has attempted to encourage similar pledges from other actors by promising to reduce emissions by 30 per cent if they undertake comparable efforts. This represents a middle ground between China’s call for a 40 per cent reduction for developed countries and the emission reduction targets so far taken on board by Japan (8-9 per cent by 2020 with a 1990 base year) and the United States (4-7 per cent by 2020 with a 1990 base year) and is also the maximum that can be reached between the 27 EU member states.

A negotiating position that aims to present a climate regime signed and ratified by most states will at best produce a ‘fair deal’ and will leave little room for climate equity or justice. Successful consensus building demands everyone to make concessions in order to meet halfway and reach a workable arrangement. As such, the European Union has also called on developing countries, including China, to commit to a 15-30 per cent reduction in their emissions by 2020 measured against a yet to be defined business-as-usual scenario.

The same goes for climate financing. Although the European Union has promised financial support for climate change measures in developing countries, it has so far been unable and/or unwilling to give an exact figure for this. Instead, the EU negotiating team has made funding for all but the least-developed countries (LDCs) contingent on the adoption of robust and verifiable low-carbon development strategies, which need to indicate the sums necessary for their proposed carbon abatement measures.

The European Union has also stated that climate change measures with low incremental costs or a net benefit in the medium-term but requiring large up-front investments, such as energy efficiency, should be covered by the countries themselves and not by EU funding.

Last but not least, the European Union finds itself incapable of adopting an equitable approach towards the climate change negotiations because each member state views equity differently. This is due to the fact that carbon emissions, levels of development and climate awareness significantly differ from country to country. Here the divisions lie particularly between the old and new member states. While the United Kingdom and Germany have already announced 40 per cent reduction targets and are willing if needed to open their cheque books when it comes to climate financing, energy-intensive countries such as Poland or Romania are unwilling to do so. Not only do these member states lack an awareness and appreciation of the scale of the climate problem, but in their eyes any constraints on their economic development are unacceptable. Having consigned the socialism of the Soviet Union to the dustbin of history exactly 20 years ago, the population of the ex-Warsaw Pact countries want to fully enjoy the promised fruits of their peaceful revolutions. In this context, they consider demands for climate protection measures stymieing economic development as unfair, particularly as they already significantly reduced their emissions during the 1990s; never mind the fact that these reductions were thanks to the collapse of the majority of their industrial base and not due to actual climate protection measures.

These diverging views have led to tough and drawn-out negotiations inside the European Union. This took place particularly with the energy and climate package, which was significantly watered-down in order to bring on board the Central and Eastern European countries, and it continues to be the case.

Many member states, for example, are concerned that stringent obligations for developed countries will dramatically distort competition and lead to carbon leakage: the outsourcing of certain European industries (particularly energy-intensive sectors), to countries with no, or only very lenient, climate protection measures. This would lead to a loss of jobs and is considered by the majority of the political elite as unacceptable collateral damage.

As a result, the European Union is currently formulating a directive on energy-intensive industries and carbon leakage to have a back-up plan in case the climate negotiations go awry. Such developments are not restricted to the European Union alone. The Waxman-Markey climate bill currently negotiated in the United States includes similar provisions that would place carbon taxes against imports from countries without equivalent carbon emission controls to those in the US. The outcry against these measures from developing countries has been great and it is not unreasonable to assume that should these measures be implemented we might be facing a global trade war.

International justice and climate equity therefore play only a marginal role for the European Union. While the EU adheres to the UNFCCC principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’, which remains open to interpretation, its interest lies first and foremost in clinching an effective and inclusive agreement that binds everyone.

The European Union acknowledges that developed countries must take the lead in combating and adapting to climate change but in the eyes of the EU this is a fight that all but the very poorest countries must participate in to some degree or another. If we are determined to have a dynamic climate regime that will potentially keep the temperature rise below the 2 degree threshold then all major actors (US, China, Russia, India, Canada, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, the EU, etc.) will have to shoulder this new agreement.

For that to happen, the perfect will be sacrificed for the good, the just will give way to the fair, and the scientific imperative will yield to the politically feasible. This is the very fabric that made and continues to make the EU the success it is today.