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25th Aug 2019

Climate tops Brussels' agenda for EU-US summit

  • The EU-US summit takes place one month ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference (Photo: eu2009.cz)

Climate change will feature heavily at an EU-US summit on Tuesday (3 November) as Brussels and Washington each try to find out what the other side is going to bring to the global negotiating table next month.

Top officials from the European Commission and the Swedish EU presidency will meet US president Barack Obama and his team in Washington in a bid to feel out the American position a month ahead of the UN-led climate change conference in Copenhagen aimed at securing a global political agreement on carbon emissions.

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The first formal EU-US summit since Mr Obama took office, apart from an informal get together in April this year in Prague, will have one and half hours on Tuesday (3 November) dedicated to four topics: climate change, economic recovery after the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iran.

From the European side, the delegation will include EU commission president Jose Manuel Baroso and Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt, together with top diplomat Javier Solana, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt and the commissioners for external relations and energy. Mr Obama will be seconded by Vice-President Joseph Biden and his national security advisor as well as the deputy secretary of state Jim Steinberg.

Mr Biden will be the first to receive the EU delegation for a lunch, ahead of the proper summit, dedicated to the Eastern Partnership, the Western Balkans and Russia. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton will not be present at the summit, as she will only return from Morocco on Wednesday, when she will host another special meeting with the EU team, mostly dedicated to the Middle East, Afghanistan and Russia.

"We don't expect a major breakthrough on climate, it would be highly surprising," an EU official admitted to Brussels journalists ahead of the trip. But the European side wants to know where the US stands ahead of Copenhagen in terms of emission reduction targets, climate finance and the creation of a cap and trade regime.

Europe wants to see a "compatible" cap and trade system in the US, so that for instance an aluminium producer in Germany does noy have to pay more for emissions than in the US. "That would lead to competitive distortions," the official explained.

But despite all their efforts to lobby the Obama administration, Brussels officials also admit that Congress may dampen ambitious targets and set a US-only cap and trade system in place.

As to a Copenhagen deal, Mr Obama's focus is rather on Beijing than Brussels, with a 10-day trip to Asia coming up next week, including several days in China.

Separately, German chancellor Angela Merkel, also in Washington on Tuesday, will urge Congress to support an international deal in Copenhagen. Her visit revolves around the 20 anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Energy council on green technology

One of the ‘deliverables' of the EU-US summit will be the setting up of a new joint energy council focusing on the research and development of sustainable and clean technologies, as well as public policies to promote them on both sides of the Atlantic.

Co-chaired by Ms Clinton and energy secretary Chu, the new body will meet on Wednesday and establish working groups tasked to carve out priorities and possible solutions until next year.

On the European side, the energy council will have the commissioners for external relations, energy, science and research, as well as the relevant diplomats and ministers from the Swedish EU presidency.

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