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4th Feb 2023

EU climate chief: 'No climate deal likely before 2012'

  • Climate negotiations in Copenhagen did not go the way the EU had hoped (Photo: Image.net)

Global divisions on climate are so acute that a binding UN deal is unlikely for almost another two years, Europe's new climate commissioner believes.

Speaking to a meeting of the foreign ministers of EU member states in Brussels on Monday, commissioner Connie Hedegaard warned that while she very much hoped for a legally binding deal to be reached as soon as possible, this was most likely not achievable before the ‘Cop 17' - shorthand for the meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is to take place in December 2011 in South Africa.

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As talks ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference last December began to become ensnarled with mistrust between rich and poor countries, the European Commission had predicted that if an agreement could not be reached in the Danish capital, this could at least be achieved within the first three to six months of 2010, while Sweden, then holding the rotating chairmanship of the EU, had more pessimistically said that a binding accord could take up to another year.

But now the pessimism has taken further hold.

According to a source close to the closed-door discussion by foreign ministers, Ms Hedegaard said that an agreement would have to wait for the South African meeting because this would finally be hosted by one of the so-called Basic (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries, the most powerful of the globe's developing nations and to a contested extent the leaders of the southern position in climate talks

As a result, said Ms Hedegaard, the EU would have to take a "step-wise approach", meaning a more "realistic" focus on what gains could be achieved and built upon each step of the way in anticipation of a more comprehensive international deal won at some point down the road.

As she later told reporters: "We need to know what the deliverables are in Bonn [the next international meeting], and then in Mexico [the Cop 16], and we need to sort that out very explicitly."

EU climate ‘exec committee'

The meeting of foreign ministers, gathered in Monday in the guise of the EU's ‘General Affairs Council' (referred to in Brussels circles as the ‘Gac'), supported a Spanish EU presidency proposal that the Gac take on the role of a sort of ‘executive committee' of the EU's climate strategy, co-ordinating the climate change actions of each of the various other Council of Ministers formations.

A work plan of actions to be executed by the different councils was agreed. The next council of environment ministers would perform three tasks: implement the Copenhagen Accord - the climate document crafted in Denmark but outside the UN process and the subject of much suspicion in the developing world; investigate ways to boost the negotiating process; and identify ways to achieve leverage against countries whose opinions differed to those of the EU.

The council of economy and finance ministers is to co-ordinate the development of ‘fast-track' climate funds for developing countries, the short-term monies promised at Copenhagen to help poor nations cope with the effects of climate change and start to mitigate their carbon emissions.

The aim is to use the fast-start funding as a trust-building measure, to show how "serious" the EU is in actually stumping up the cash.

The ‘competitiveness' council will work on green business opportunities in the different member states and consider the implications of the Copenhagen Accord for industry. The key concern here are worries on the part of some companies about what has come to be known as ‘carbon leakage' - that they will lose out to foreign businesses that do not have to abide by climate legislation that is as strict as that of the EU.

France is pushing strongly for a carbon tariff to be implemented at the EU's border, while other states, apart from Poland, so far seem to be lukewarm on the idea or opposed out of worries of sparking trade wars.

The transport, energy and telecoms council for its part is to work on investments in low-carbon technologies such as solar power, wind energy, bio-energy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear fission and hydrogen-based transport.

The task of the foreign affairs council meanwhile - in which the same foreign ministers that meet as the Gac focus on issues external to the EU rather than within the bloc - is more opaque, but will look at how to deploy external relations to support European climate strategy.

Outreach and fresh alliances

Mr Moratinos told reporters after the Gac meeting: "What was missing [at Copenhagen] was a strategy of alliances to advance the goals of the EU."

"We do need to improve our negotiating skills. We need to seek out possible allies on the international scene to counter opposition."

In this regard, Ms Hedegaard is soon to set out on a ‘goodwill' climate tour of the world and visit China, Brazil, and the United States, as well as attempt to "reach out" to African nations and small-island states.

The next Gac is to prepare a summary report of the work of the different councils and then feed the result of this into the next European Council - the meeting of heads of state and government from 25-26 March - whose main two topics will be climate strategy and the EU's next ten-year economic plan.

Last week, the president of the European Commission wrote to the premiers and presidents of EU countries, arguing for Europe-wide unity in climate negotiations and informing them that he had asked the climate commissioner to consult with other countries in order to re-invigorate the international process. The result of this, President Barroso would then feed as his first assessment into the spring European Council.

He also asked the leaders for their "own reflections" on the direction of the thinking of foreign powers.

In the wake of the Copenhagen debacle, European commentators, officials and politicians widely agreed that the bloc should speak with one voice on climate issues in the future. But whether this one voice is that of the European Commission or the European Council has yet to be settled.

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