Thursday

18th Apr 2019

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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

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.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us