EU and climate agreement

The on-coming Copenhagen climate conference – 7-18 December 2009 –  is going to conclude the international negotiations launched in December 2007 to draw up a United Nations agreement on tackling climate change and global warming for the period after 2012, when key provisions of the Kyoto Protocol will expire. Three negotiating sessions at official level have been held so far this year, all in Bonn, Germany. The second last preparatory sessions for Copenhagen has taken place in Bangkok from 28 September to 9 October and the last one will be held in Barcelona from 2 to 6 November.

The EU is pressing for an ambitious and comprehensive agreement that will prevent global warming from reaching the dangerous levels – more than 2°C above the pre-industrial temperature – that are projected by the scientific community if the world continues with business as usual.

Scientific evidence shows that, to put global emissions on a trajectory that is compatible with respecting this temperature ceiling, industrialized countries need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 while developing countries should limit their rapid emissions growth to around 15-30% below projected business as usual levels in 2020. Global emissions need to peak before 2020 and then be cut by at least 50% of 1990 levels by 2050.

The EU has shown leadership by committing unconditionally to cut its emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 and is implementing the climate and energy package (see IP/09/628 ) as well as a program of energy efficiency measures to achieve this. Moreover, it has committed to scale up its emission cut to 30% on condition that other industrialised countries agree to make comparable reductions and economically more advanced developing countries contribute adequately to a global deal.

However, emission targets put forward by industrialized countries so far add up to a reduction of only 9-16.5% below 1990 levels by 2020, while the big emerging economies have offered little in terms of concrete action to control their emissions.

On 10 September the Commission proposed a global blueprint for increasing international finance to help developing countries mitigate their emissions and adapt to climate change (see IP/09/1297 ). This gives a basis for the European Council to take an EU position on financing at the end of October.

Despite consensus at the U.N. climate change conference in Poznań, Poland, last December that the international negotiations should be shifted into higher gear, progress at the three negotiating sessions this year has been slow.

The negotiations are being conducted on two parallel ‘tracks’. On one track the 192 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which include the U.S., are discussing long-term cooperative action to combat climate change. On the other track the 184 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which do not include the U.S., are discussing post-2012 emission reduction commitments for industrialised countries.

This division of the negotiations into two tracks is a complicating factor and it would be desirable for the tracks to be merged sooner rather than later to prepare the way for a single agreement in Copenhagen. Indeed, there are already clear signs of the Convention track emerging as the main focus, while negotiations under the Kyoto track are practically stalemated. The EU wants to ensure, however, that all of the substance of the Kyoto track discussions – on further emission reductions by industrialised countries and on other key issues, such as reform of the international carbon market and emission accounting rules for the forestry sector – is kept on the table as the two tracks come together.

The informal negotiating session held in Bonn in August finished with a negotiating text under the Convention track of more than 250 pages, poorly structured and full of brackets. At the last meeting in Bangkok, Parties achieved a streamlining, rationalisation and restructuring of large parts of the negotiating text and have increased understanding of various proposals on the table. However, negotiations have not lead to any major substantive compromises nor convergence of views. Looking beyond Bangkok, the amount of substantive technical and political work in the 8 weeks ahead of the start of the Copenhagen conference presents a formidable political challenge.

For the EU there are a number of essential elements, which cannot be given up if we want any action against climate change and global warmoing to succeed:

  • binding emission reductions by all industrialised countries based on comparable efforts;
  • appropriate action by developing countries to limit emissions; a framework for action on adaptation to climate change;
  • action to reduce deforestation and forest degradation and promote sustainable forest management in tropical regions;
  • updated accounting rules for emissions from land-use, land-use change and forestry;
  • an expanded international carbon market to generate financial support for developing countries and promote cost-effective emission cuts;
  • provision of international public finance to developing countries to supplement financial flows from the carbon market and domestic investment;
  • a comprehensive package on technology cooperation and funding to accelerate development of a low-carbon global economy.

The EU wants the Copenhagen agreement to be a single legally binding instrument that builds on and takes forward the Kyoto Protocol. The agreement needs to be ratified by governments in time for it to enter force on 1 January 2013. Needless to say, the EU will honor all its commitments and obligations under Kyoto, independently of the outcome of Copenhagen.

The window of opportunity to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels of 2°C or more above the pre-industrial temperature, which could trigger irreversible and catastrophic changes in the global environment, is closing fast. The average global temperature is already almost 0.8°C higher than in pre-industrial times and some research indicates that past and present emissions may have already made a further rise of as much as 1°C inevitable.

This means that Copenhagen is almost certainly the last chance to get global emissions onto a progressively lower-carbon track that can prevent climate change from reaching 2°C or more. It is 12 years since the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, so Copenhagen is a rare opportunity for global action. With world emissions still rising steadily, waiting another decade or more to act will be too late to prevent dangerous climate change.


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