First in class, but not best in class – The EU’s proposal for the 2015 climate conference in Paris

The EU recently agreed on its contribution (INDC) to the global climate change agreement, which is due to be adopted in Paris in December. It is worth noting that the EU is the first of the major economies to present its offer for the Paris agreement. Nevertheless, the extent to which the offer paves the way to an ambitious climate deal in Paris is questionable indeed, as Silvia Brugger reports.

INDC negotiations

The Climate Summit in Paris is not very high on the political agenda of the European Union. (Photo by European Council Newsroom)


Only a few days after the European Commission set out its vision for the new global climate change agreement, which is due to be adopted in Paris in December, the EU agreed on its contribution to the Paris Conference (in UN-jargon – INDC for “intended nationally determined contribution“). The EU aims for a legally binding agreement that would reduce global emissions by at least 60% below 2010 levels by 2050 and a revision process that would require the UN to assess progress every five years.

It is worth noting that the EU is one of the first negotiating parties to present its offer for the Paris agreement. Nevertheless, the extent to which one can agree with Climate and Energy Commissioner Cañete’s assertion that the offer paves the way to an ambitious agreement at the end of the year is questionable indeed.

The risk of watering down EU climate ambition

The EU’s INDC is based on the recently adopted 2030 climate and energy framework, which requires emission reductions of at least 40% of 1990 levels by 2030. The target is based on a decarbonisation scenario of 80% by 2050 – this puts the offer at the lower end of the IPCC recommended long-term goal of 80-95% by mid-century. This being said, it should not come as a surprise that the EU Commission has largely abstained from commenting about the fairness of its offer.

Furthermore, the EU decided to include the emissions of the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector in the “at least” 40% target, while taking into account environmental integrity. Due to the challenges associated with the measurement and calculation of emissions, there is considerable concern that the inclusion of LULUCF could threaten the rigour, integrity and ambition of the EU climate target. By announcing that LULUCF rules will be legislated after Paris, but before 2020, the EU does unfortunately not foster much clarity and confidence.

Other countries are positioning themselves according to the EU’s proposal

This point is particularly striking given the EU’s role in establishing a benchmark for other countries. Countries with larger forestry and land use, such as Brazil and Indonesia, will undoubtedly observe how the EU deals with the LULUCF sector and its controversies. Transparency and accountability of international contributions are ranked very high on the European agenda, and should therefore apply all the more for the domestic climate protection policy.

Moreover, it will be critical to observe the extent to which an increase of the 40% goal will be pursued. This is especially important given the use of the words “at least” in the rhetoric. Accordingly, the EU has left prospects for collectively increasing global climate ambition open, for example by defining a mid-term climate target to be reached until 2025 and by continuing to push for reforms of the emissions trading system.

The EU, hesitant to act alone, relies on others

At present, the EU’s ability to mobilise the political will required to push for further concessions is questionable at best. The Climate Summit in Paris is not very high on the political agenda, and European countries are preoccupied with issues like terrorism, the Ukraine crisis and the Greek bailout. Additionally, many Member States believe that the EU has already done its fair share, and that other states should take the lead.

Accordingly, the EU has called on the developed countries and emerging economies in the G20 (the US and China in particular) to make bold commitments to climate protection. However, it cannot allow itself to rely on the actions of the US and China; instead, the EU should proactively seek alliances with other partners worldwide.

Climate diplomacy must respond to the needs of the partners

Despite the criticisms outlined above, the EU’s conviction to use its extensive diplomatic network, coupled with its recent launch of a climate diplomacy action plan, should be commended. The new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Mogherini, alongside her colleague Cañete appear to be promoting this agenda. Nevertheless, such a diplomatic strategy can only be deemed successful and serve to build confidence if it is bolstered by substance and concrete action.

Regrettably, the EU’s INDC is limited to emissions reduction, and neglects the issue of adaptation. Indeed, the EU climate agenda bears an Achilles heel in the form of climate finance and adaptation. The Commission claims that it is “too early” to discuss climate finance commitments for the next decade; however, issues of climate finance and adaptation are central to a successful alliance-building between the EU and its “natural partners” in African, Latin American and island countries.

To make matters worse, and this surely is a disappointment for the EU’s prospective partners, the issue of “loss and damage” is completely excluded from the Commission’s 16-page document. The longer the international community waits to take action on climate mitigation, the more susceptible those already-vulnerable countries become to the effects of climate change. One can only hope that the EU prioritises these types of confidence-building diplomatic measures in the future.

Climate change should be the core of the Energy Union – and the Energy Union should serve to strengthen EU climate leadership

The EU’s credibility at the negotiating table is directly linked to its ability to realise the decarbonisation goals of the Energy Union, for which a vision was outlined on 25th February. The Energy Union should not be limited to joint gas purchasing; nor should it blindly advocate the use of all domestic energy sources without regard to the risks and climate impacts of their extraction. Lastly, the presumed trade-off between security of supply, competitiveness, and climate protection should be eradicated from the political narrative.

An Energy Union based on a transition towards 100% renewables has the potential to reinforce Europe’s role as a pioneer in the realm of climate protection. However, this will require the support of the Member States. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position as chair of this year’s G7 meeting puts the former “climate chancellor” in a unique position. Merkel should seize this opportunity, and use it to push for an ambitious and fair deal at the COP in Paris.

The proposal of the EU should not be the last word. Indeed, it is up to the Member States to recognise the (formerly) unique role of the EU as global climate frontrunner and continue to strive for the position of “best in the class.”

Silvia Brugger, Director Climate and Energy Programme, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union.

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Energiewende Team

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1 Comment

  1. Jeffrey Michel says

    German environment minister Barbara Hendricks is a member of the SPD, the party that owes its political majority in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg to the mining union IG BCE. This party has reflexively ignored proposals of the Greens and Left Party for coal phase-out legislation and for adopting the EPA definition of CO2 as an environmental pollutant. The first “natural partners” of any party should include members of the political opposition within each country toward stabilizing the conditions of global existence. Before embarking upon extensive fact-finding trips to Africa, Latin America, and the island countries, therefore, elected politicians should first walk across the aisle of their own parliaments.

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