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2nd Apr 2020

Developing world out of date on climate change, EU says

  • Hedegaard: 'It's not enough that we are standing alone' (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU has said it will sign up to extending the international treaty on climate change but has little hope that the US and China will follow suit.

In a speech laying out the EU's position ahead of international talks beginning in Durban next week, EU climate change chief Connie Hedegaard Thursday (24 November) said it is unlikely that Washington and Beijing will sign up to "what the world needs" but called on them to set out a clear "roadmap."

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The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, expires at the end of 2012.

But countries are divided over whether to commit to a second phase - Russia, Japan and Canada have already indicated they will not do so - when big greenhouse gas emitters are not onboard.

Hedegaard also underlined that the EU's promise to go to another phase has more symbolic rather than practical climate changing effect, with the EU only accounting for 11 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

However, she said the EU is unwilling to abandon the process as "whether we like it or not, it is the only place where climate change is being discussed internationally."

Underlining how climate change issues have slipped down the global agenda amid the economic crisis, Hedegaard suggested a new international deal could be in place a few years down the road, by 2020.

"We think that the principles and timelines should be established now. And then by 2015, when we have the next review from the international climate panel, we could have all the details set so that no later than 2020 ... we would have the new system established."

The Dane, who played an important role during the failed Copenhagen climate change talks in 2009 where the EU woke up to the fact that it is not the world player it had imagined itself to be - even on its pet topic of the environment - conceded that "the pace is much too slow for my taste."

Even accepting its relative weakness on the global stage, the EU is still willing to play the moral card.

"The EU is ready. The world is not waiting for the EU to move. We are there. We are ambitious. We need others to care and to move their positions because it is not enough to save the process. We also need to save the climate," Hedegaard said.

Negotiators from almost 200 countries will head to Durban for two weeks of UN talks beginning Monday but most experts are gloomy about the prospects of real progress at the event.

One of the biggest political issues dogging environment negotiations is the split between richer and poorer countries. Developing nations argue that Western countries, who created the environmental problems in the first place, should not be trying to force a curb in the emissions of those countries playing industrial catch-up.

Hedegaard, armed with figures from the UN showing China and South Africa fast approaching EU per capita CO2 emissions, suggested this is an artificial split that belongs to the last century.

"The Kyoto division between developed and developing countries no longer reflects the evolution of emissions. Today's rise in CO2 emissions is mainly driven by emerging economies using coal," she said.

Arguing that the world is different to how it was in 1997 when the Kyoto agreement came into being, she said it was no longer valid to have a system where developed countries, "accounting for less and less emissions", are obliged to hold to targets whereas emerging countries can "do things voluntarily".

Developing countries for their part argue that the volume of historic emissions by the west places the bulk of responsibility on them to fix the problem they created.

Hedegaard said EU negotiators are going to Durban "in order to secure continued progress" but refused to speculate on what it would mean if even the asked for roadmap from the US and others fail to materalise by 9 December, the conference's end.

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