Faint Praise for EU Climate Diplomacy

The EU did more than just about anyone else at the recent UN climate summit in Doha to make progress on an array of issues that could slow global warming.

But this praise is consciously faint. The meager steps forward in Qatar — like the formulation of a successor treaty to Kyoto — won’t keep global temperatures from rising less than 2 degrees in coming decades or coastal states from being swallowed up by the Pacific. The EU, and Germany in particular, could have and should have done more. It could have assumed a leadership role, like it did in Durban last year, instead of settling for the status of the best pupil in a class of duds.

First, let’s look at what was accomplished — because it wasn’t absolutely nothing. The EU was one of very few – and the only significant actor —  that rescued the Kyoto protocol. The EU, Australia, Norway, and a few other developed countries agreed to adopt new carbon-cutting targets under the prolonged treaty, which will run to 2020. There is hope that others will join somewhere along the way.

Moreover, developing countries pried a weak concession from the wealthy countries, namely recognition that they bear the brunt of the scourges of climate change and thus deserve funds to compensate their losses. This is the first time such an admission will find it way into a legal document, so indeed some observers are calling it “historic.”

Lastly, and Germany’s signature is on this one, there’s going to be a new club of countries that are making clean energy transitions, among which Germany will be prominent. This idea association of clean-energy go-getters in the brainchild of Germany’s environment minister Peter Altmaier. It’s something he’s been promoting in Germany recently, an effort to share best practices and perhaps also to remove from German the stigma that it is all on its own. It’s going to be based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. No one knows much more than that, and it remains to be seen whether it’s going to be yet another expensive international organization that does nothing or in fact something with real substance.

These very weak accomplishments are all the world has from Doha 2012. Sure, the EU looks pretty good compared to the US, China and this time around even Canada, which was one of the major obstructers. But despite the agreement of almost all of the EU27, the 2020 goal of bringing down carbon emissions to their 1990 level was left at 20 percent rather than increased to 30 percent.  As it stands the EU countries will reach the 20 percent goal without even trying — and most agree that 30 percent is in reach. The NGO Climate Action Network Europe calculates that Europe is already on course to reach 25 percent and could even achieve 27 percent with the projected impact of initiatives such as the Energy Efficiency Directive.

The UK pushed hard for the 30 percent target, harder than Germany. The misfit singled out for the failure is Poland, which was outspoken in not wanting a more ambitious goal. This is why the EU didn’t arrive at the summit with a common negotiating plank. But Germany, under Altmaier, could have led a charge to name a 30 percent target despite Poland. Just leave Poland out of it. And indeed Altmaier raised the possibility of doing so at Doha. But it went nowhere. Altmaier arrived at Doha late, left early, and never had the backing of the coalition’s junior partner, the Free Democrats.

Moreover, Poland insisted on keeping its ‘hot air’ carbon credits awarded to it in the 1990s. The surplus credits, which Russia, Ukraine, and Japan also have, total 13 billion tons of CO2, almost three times of what the entire EU spews into the air each year.

Also, although the rich nations agreed in principle that there was common responsibility for the hard-hit developing countries, they neither agreed on concrete measures to fund them, nor did they decide to use stronger wording to indicate that wealthy nations bore legal responsibility for their plight. In 2009 the developed countries agreed to mobilize a €100 billion annual fund by 2020 to help developing countries fight climate change. The EU, for its part, agreed to provide the €7.2 billion in finance for the 2010-12 that it had promised.

Lead image: EU map and flag via Shutterstock

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Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based author who has written about Europe since 1989. Paul is the author of three major books on European politics: Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe, Homeland Calling: Exile Patriotism and the Balkans Wars, and Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic: An Alternative History of Postwar Germany. From 1997-99 he worked with the international mission in Bosnia and 2003-04 in Kosovo. Since then, Paul has held fellowships with the American Academy in Berlin, the European Journalism College in Berlin, and the German Marshall Fund. He was an editor at Internationale Politik, Germany’s leading foreign affairs journal, for five years. He is currently author of the blog Going Renewable and is writing a book about Germany’s energy revolution.

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