Friday

19th Apr 2019

Open letters help frame debate on climate summit

  • Writing an open letter is only successful if the content becomes part of the public debate (Photo: Wim Mulder)

EU leaders have been receiving quite a number of letters this past month as an important climate summit approaches.

Companies, trade associations and NGOs have sent at least a dozen open letters to government leaders about the decisions they are set to make on climate and energy targets during a summit in Brussels on Thursday (23 October).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Herman Van Rompuy received one sent on Monday (20 October) from the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, of which Coca-Cola, Philips and Shell are members.

The outgoing president of the European Council was asked "to adopt a linked up approach between Europe’s energy security, decarbonisation and industrial goals".

The prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, received a letter from a group of NGOs from his country earlier this month, praising his “leadership” and “political vision” – it also included the polite request to “increase the level of ambition” in the so-called climate and energy framework for 2030.

The European Steel Association, the European coal industry, the European trade union IndustriAll also contributed to filling the politicians' mailboxes.

And there was a “declaration” from a diverse group of companies like Ikea (furniture), Unilever (food, drinks and other consumer goods) and Swarovski (jewels).

The companies call for three binding climate targets of “40-40-40” – a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, a 40 percent share of renewable energy sources and a 40 percent energy efficiency target.

What is the purpose of these open letters?

A lot of lobbying is done behind closed doors, so you have to wonder why a letter is open in the first place, said Pascoe Sabido, researcher and campaigner at the Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO).

“It might sound cynical, but a lot of this is around PR”, Sabido said. Companies want to “frame themselves as part of the good guys”.

At the same time, a commercial would serve that purpose just as well, so it is not only about public image.

“Knowing how difficult it is to get companies to send those letters, to convince the whole echelon to commit to call for specific numbers – it goes well beyond just public show”, said Brook Riley, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“I think the fact that we are seeing these letters is a genuine sign of commitment.”

Over the five years since the EU climate targets for 2020 were finalised, Riley has noticed that the “progressive voices” have become much louder.

Just as that there are differences of opinion among EU member states, there are differences of opinion between corporations.

“Each business will be affected differently by these measures”, said Sabido. “There will always be winners and losers. The winners are able to say: let's be more ambitious.”

So the European Photovoltaic Industry Association – the solar panel industry – is one of the signatories of an open letter calling for “an ambitious objective for greenhouse gas emissions reductions”. And the coal industry is calling for a “realistic” target.

Shaping the debate

But the letters are also meant to shape the debate, said Sabido, who said "40-40-40" is still "incredibly inadequate".

“You have your 40-percenters, your 20-percenters, so politicians think: these are the progressive, these are less progressive, we'll go somewhere in in the middle and everybody ends up happy.”

With the debate framed like that, the request in the letter to Luxembourg prime minister Bettel becomes rather extreme.

The author of the letter, who wrote on behalf of several Luxembourg NGOs, among which Greenpeace, called for “at least 55 percent reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, 40 percent energy efficiency and 45 percent renewable energy in 2030”.

The draft conclusions of the meeting include percentages of respectively 40, 30 and 27 percent. It is not likely that the final conclusions will include higher percentages.

“Yes it's a defeat, there's no question about that”, said Riley. “Worse, it's been called ambitious by people who are promoting it.”

Of course, open letters are but a small part of the lobbying machine in Brussels - of which not only the mentioned companies but also the two NGOs are part.

The media effect

But which open letters are effective and which ones aren't? Hard to say, according to Arco Timmermans, professor of public affairs at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

“It is amazing how little systematic empirical research there is on advocacy”, Timmermans said.

What he can say is that open letters need to be picked up by mainstream media to have an actual effect on policy-makers.

“Does it lead to a cascade of attention and generate critical mass? If nothing happens then such a letter is useless.”

What are the EU climate talks about?

With climate targets only set at the EU level, the key question is how member states will be persuaded to do their share.

Single EU railway signalling system faces delays

'A reality check shows that we are already falling a little bit behind in the first few years,' said the new coordinator for the European rail traffic management system (ERTMS).

Single EU railway signalling system faces delays

'A reality check shows that we are already falling a little bit behind in the first few years,' said the new coordinator for the European rail traffic management system (ERTMS).

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us