Tuesday

6th Dec 2022

Opinion

EU climate diplomacy can make the difference

  • The EU has found common ground with China to preserve the 2015 Paris Agreement - despite an often challenging bilateral economic relationship (Photo: Yann Levy/350.org)

There is no other problem which tests the ability of countries to cooperate and to coordinate their responses like climate change.

For the European Union, climate change is also a test of the ability to act cohesively in the world.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Europe has long been a leader in the international diplomacy of climate change, reflecting the demands of European citizens for a clean environment.

The Paris Agreement of 2015, delivered under the presidency of France, is in part a result of EU leadership.

But now, as the United States under Donald Trump abandons the Paris Agreement, denies the reality of climate change and behaves with unprecedented hostility towards EU partners and multilateralism in general, the share of the load that the EU must bear grows correspondingly heavier.

To examine how the EU could use diplomacy to strengthen climate action globally, we brought together climate negotiators from the European Commission and member states with academic experts on climate politics, policy and law.

The outcomes of this collective project highlight a number of key messages.

First, the unique capacity of the EU to influence international outcomes on climate change stems from the multi-dimensional nature of EU diplomacy.

This includes member states leveraging their diverse relationships with countries and communities around the world, an unparalleled network of diplomatic missions, the EU's standing as the leading global provider of overseas development assistance (which is increasingly focused on sustainable development), and the size of the EU as a trading bloc, enabling it to promote high environmental standards through multilateral and bilateral trade and investment agreements (the most recent of which are explicitly linked to implementation of the Paris Agreement).

But the EU can only take advantage of these strengths when member states give it the mandate to act ambitiously and in unison.

The effectiveness of EU climate diplomacy also depends on the credibility of internal EU climate action, so that we can continue to 'lead by example'.

The implementation of the Energy Union must be robust and must set the pathway for increasing levels of ambition.

Second, and relatedly, climate diplomacy today is pursued through an expanding array of forums, ranging from the UN Climate Convention to trade negotiations to the broader programme of work under the Sustainable Development Goals.

For the EU, relations with neighbours like the Western Balkans and the broader Mediterranean also provide opportunities to enhance cooperation on climate change.

Two imperatives stand out: to pursue a consistent message across these multiple tracks; and to develop linkages between complimentary programmes of activity to maximise impact and minimise duplication.

Bilateral relations are also vital.

For example, at the same time as the EU finds common ground with China to preserve the Paris Agreement, it must also promote climate action through an often challenging bilateral economic relationship.

Third, a strong negotiating stance rests on a political commitment that must be nurtured not taken for granted. For all that climate policy requires deep expertise, it cannot be left to technical experts alone.

Whole-economy transition

It is not simply a case of retrofitting economies with less polluting energy sources and shoring up defences against the effects of climate change. Rather, an effective response to climate change entails a whole-of-economy transformation.

This necessitates political decision-making and a political vision of the destination. The social element is fundamental to this, because a community consensus for strong climate action depends on prioritising socially just outcomes for workers, communities and regions.

The pursuit of a 'just transition' is not an optional progressive extra to climate policy, but key to its success.

To safeguard the politics that make ambitious climate diplomacy possible, we must engage a broad progressive front which encompasses concerned citizens, environmentalists, workers, and the businesses and investors pioneering the sustainable markets and products of the future.

Finally, progressive leadership on climate change can also help the European Union to re-engage with its citizens. Europeans have long been proud of the EU's high environmental standards and leadership in global environmental cooperation.

At this critical time, with climate change increasingly urgent and with reactionary, anti-science forces threatening processes of cooperation, the EU climate mission can reassert the common values and aspirations which Europeans share.

At the same time, an accelerated climate transition would bring material benefits, such as reduced pollution, lower dependence on energy imports and the ability of more households to independently produce and consume renewable energy.

Stephen Minas is an assistant professor at the School of Transnational Law, Peking University, China, and senior research fellow in the Transnational Law Institute at King's College London, UK. Vassilis Ntousas is the international relations policy advisor at the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, Belgium and together, they are the editors of the new collection of essays EU climate diplomacy - politics, law and negotiations

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Investigation

US in denial on EU climate forum

An Obama-era climate change working group has been in limbo since Trump came into office. Other areas of transatlantic energy cooperation also face uncertainty.

'Denial' - is meat the new climate change?

The European Parliament's agriculture committee meets on Tuesday, with speculation that the EPP will vote against a report on the EU plant protein plan if it mentions switching away from animals to plant-based diets.

The risks behind the 'green bond' boom

The EU should not overuse the financial system in order to achieve environmental goals, or it risks the emergence of a green bond bubble which would be detrimental to the financial sector and hinder the achievement of climate targets.

Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia

Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.

EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals

This global tax rate for multinationals could yield up to €64bn annually. Yet, the Hungarian government led by Viktor Orbán has been blocking it for months. The impotency of the EU to strike a deal is irresponsible and incomprehensible.

EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals

This global tax rate for multinationals could yield up to €64bn annually. Yet, the Hungarian government led by Viktor Orbán has been blocking it for months. The impotency of the EU to strike a deal is irresponsible and incomprehensible.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU countries struggle to crack Hungary's vetos
  2. Frontex expanding migrant route-busting mission in Balkans
  3. EU ministers in fresh battle on joint debt, after Biden subsidies
  4. EU: 'We'll see' if Moscow actually stops selling oil over price-cap
  5. Bad Karma
  6. Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia
  7. Hungary's funds showdown in focus This WEEK
  8. EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us