21st Sep 2019

Hedegaard: EU must speak with one voice on climate

  • MEPs were won over by Ms Hedegaard's presentation (Photo: Jakob Dall)

Europe risks again being sidelined, as in the final hours of the UN climate talks in December, unless the bloc speaks with one voice at future talks, the incoming climate commissioner warned on Friday (15 January).

"There are very important lessons from Copenhagen. In the last hours, China, India, Russia, Japan each spoke with one voice, while Europe spoke with many different voices," Denmark's Connie Hedegaard, the presumptive new 'climate action' chief, told MEPs during her job hearing in the European Parliament.

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"A lot of europeans in the room is not a problem, but there is only an advantage if we sing from same hymn sheet. We need to think about this and reflect on this very seriously, or we will lose our leadership role in the world."

EU leaders never expected the climate talks to be easy, but expected at least to win some kudos for having unilaterally committed to binding carbon emissions reductions of 20 percent by 2020. On the final day in Copenhagen, they were shocked as they found themselves sidelined when the US, Brazil, China, India and South Africa sat down to bash out a deal - what became known as the "Copenhagen Accord" - without any European powers in the room.

Ms Hedegaard, who leaves a job as Denmark's climate and energy minister to take up the position with the European Commission, gave the assembled deputies a frank assessment of how Copenhagen had disappointed the EU and what the bloc could have done better.

She also laid the blame with how long it took for the EU come up with a proposal for what became known as "climate finance" - the funds promised to the developing world to pay for measures to adapt to the effects of climate change iand to move towards a low-carbon model of development.

"Perhaps we could have come forward with finance offers at an earlier stage. It was very late that finance came to the table, if before they had left their capitals knowing that money would come their way."

The Dane gave a strong defence of the Copenhagen Accord however, the thin document widely panned for being lacking in ambition, saying that much of what is in the deal is what the EU had demanded.

"I would very much have liked to have seen more progress in Copenhagen, but finance was delivered; all the emerging developing nations have accepted co-responsibility [for reducing emissions] and Brazil, South Africa, China, India and the US, all of whom were not part of the Kyoto Protocol, have now set targets for domestic action," she said.

Not Denmark's fault

She said blame should not be borne by Denmark or the EU, but "some countries that decided at the last minute they did not want to deliver." "It is strange to blame those who worked so hard and not those that did not want to deliver," she said to warm applause.

As for the next steps, Ms Hedegaard warned against abandoning the UN process despite some countries, including the US, saying it is unrealistic to try and reach an accord among 190 states.

"Some ask: 'Shouldn't we give up on the UN process?' I say: 'No.' We would waste too much work," she said.

She also backed the EU's promise to upgrade its 20 percent carbon reduction target to 30 percent. "I very much hope that by Mexico of course we could go to 30 percent," she said, referring to the next UN climate conference at the end of 2010.

By the end of the grilling, she had very clearly won over the chamber, with deputies joking with her about whether she would be taking a bicycle to work from now on.

"I go as often as I can by bike in Copenhagen ...but there are just not that many bike lanes in Belgium. I have to study the security situation, but my husband gave me a bike helmet for Christmas," Ms Hedegaard said.

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