22nd Apr 2019

EU to voice worry on speed of climate talks

  • Information stand about Paris climate summit in Bonn, site of preparatory negotiations (Photo: UNFCC)

EU environment ministers on Friday (18 September) are expected to express their concern over the speed of climate talks ahead of a crucial conference in Paris this year, but they are in disagreement over whether to say if Europe's level of green ambition may be raised.

The ministers will note “the considerable amount of work still ahead in order to reach the Paris outcome”, and express their concern “about the lack of substantial progress on the negotiating text up to now”, according to a draft version of the meeting's conclusions, seen by EUobserver.

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The summit will be “a historic milestone for enhancing global collective action and accelerating the global transformation to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society”, the draft text says.

However, there are some outstanding issues.

At a Brussels summit in October 2014, EU government leaders agreed that the climate goals, which include reducing by “at least 40 percent” greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, could be changed depending on the outcome of international climate negotiations in Paris.

This agreement to keep the EU's climate goals “under review” provides the possibility both to increase ambition, and to scale back, in the event of a failure in Paris.

The option to downsize climate goals was a desire from several EU member states which are highly dependent on fossil fuels for their energy, like Poland, who fear that if EU sets too strict targets, it may undermine its competitiveness with the rest of the world.

“Some delegations would like to signal that the EU and its Member States retain the possibility to increase the level of mitigation ambition”, the internal document notes, referring to the option to boost the 2030 climate targets agreed at a summit in October 2014.

The document adds that a “group of delegations is opposed” to mentioning the possibility of higher ambition.

An EU source confirmed the constellations of countries are along a similar line to those ahead of the 2014 summit, and ahead of another debate to determine the EU's climate contribution to the UN.

He said those countries opposed argue that the timing of raising ambition now would be wrong, because it would be like putting all your cards on the table ahead of the game.

The contact also noted that upcoming elections in Poland next month will be on everyone's mind.

“The Polish minister cannot accept anything that goes beyond previously agreed EU positions”, the source said.

The centre-right opposition party, Law and Justice, is doing well in the polls. But one of its MPs, Piotr Naimski, recently said he hoped Paris would fail.

“If there is no agreement at the global level, there will be no reason for the current EU regulations on CO2 emission reductions to be maintained. This should mean that they will renegotiable”, Naimski said according to Reuters.

Long-term vision?

Another issue which will be on the table Friday is whether to include a point in the future by which fossil fuels should be completely phased out.

Climate scientists in their latest report concluded that greenhouse gas emissions should be near zero by 2100, a long-term goal which was politically embraced by G7 leaders last Summer.

The paper said that “most delegations” - so, not all - are “supportive of or open to the idea of including a long-term vision for global decarbonisation/climate neutrality”.

The EU source said there are two more or less evenly sized groups of countries that are at loggerheads of whether to write down a numerical long-term target.

'Snail's pace'

In December, the world's countries will convene in Paris to conclude the first binding climate treaty since 1997.

Towards the end of a recent round of talks in Bonn, some negotiators complained about the speed of progress - UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon was quoted using the term "snail's pace".

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres rejected the criticism at a press conference earlier this month.

“I'm not entirely sure that there is one pace that is ideal for everyone under all circumstances. There is no such thing, as an objective pace of negotiations that everyone can agree on”, Figueres said.

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