Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Most countries ignore EU's climate homework deadline

  • The issue of climate change has faded from the public agenda in recent years. (Photo: NN - norden.org)

All except a handful of the world's countries have ignored an EU-proposed deadline for submitting climate pledges to the United Nations.

The poor response casts doubts about the extent of political will to agree an international climate treaty to be signed in Paris at the end of this year.

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  • EU climate commissioner Canete at international climate talks in Lima, last December. (Photo: European Commission)

By Tuesday (31 March), 33 of the world's countries had sent to the UN an official text declaring their contribution to help avoid climate catastrophe.

The only non-EU countries to have done so were Switzerland, Norway, Mexico, the US, and Russia. These countries together emit 29.5 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, which cause global temperature to rise.

Originally, 31 March would have been a hard deadline, but in a compromise deal at last December's climate summit in Lima, it had already been watered down, applying only to “those parties ready to do so”.

But the European Commission has in the past weeks repeatedly called on the countries in the world to submit their contributions “well in advance” of Paris.

“China, the US and other G20 countries, as well as high and middle-income countries should be in a position to do so by the first quarter of 2015,” the commission wrote in a document titled the Paris Protocol.

The twelve non-EU members of the G20 that ignored the EU's plea, are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey.

“If I were the government of one of those countries, I'd be not just embarrased but ashamed”, Labour MEP Seb Dance told this website.

“As a species we are facing an existential threat, and we've got to take action now, whilst we still can”, noted the Briton, adding that a “sense of urgency” is lacking.

How to add up?

Submitting climate pledges well in advance is an attempt to avoid what happened in 2009, in Copenhagen, when no binding deal was reached.

If the world wants to avoid the worst effects of climate change, it needs to keep the average temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius. To do that, all the countries' contributing emissions reductions need to “add up”.

But the commission has "no sanctions, no leverage, and no right" to oblige countries to conform to its deadline, noted Conservative Scottish MEP Ian Duncan.

Green MEP Bas Eickhout pointed out that the EU has undermined itself by indicating its targets are unlikely to change.

“If Europe says commitments should be handed in early so that they can be reviewed, but at the same time states that our targets will not be increased, other countries are going to say: then why should we do it so early? The EU has a credibility problem here”, said Eickhout.

Another problem is that the issue of climate change has faded from the public agenda in recent years.

Other geopolitical issues like Ukraine and the Middle East are crowding out climate change as a policy focus, said Belgian socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt.

“Climate is always 'the problem that can wait another year', but a failure in Paris may lead to greater instability in the world. Maybe it's time to frame it more like a geopolitical problem.”

And on Wednesday afternoon (1 April), the UN published the first African climate pledge. Gabon emitted less than 0.0002 percent of the world's greenhouse gases in 2011, but at 14 pages, its pledge is the most elaborate yet.

The counter is now at 34 of the UN's 193 members.

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