Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Think2 Post: "ENVI: The Road to Copenhagen #1"

I've just posted on the Th!nk About It site on the debates on the EU's strategy at the Copenhagen Conference here. If you want to comment, please comment on the Think2 platform.

ENVI, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament yesterday adopted a draft resolution on the Copenhagen Conference. As the centre of environmental politics in the most democratic institution of the European Union - an organisation that's supposed to be leading the world when it comes to climate change issues - how is ENVI doing?

The Debate:

The Committee debated how the EU should approach the Conference in December on September 30th, in advance of yesterday's vote (video link*). The debate followed pretty established lines: questions of upper targets, of tax and financing, technology transfer, balance between the north and south, and relations between the developed and developing world.

There was quite a lot of debate on the simple question of targets. Originally, there was an upper target band of 25-40% in reductions in CO2 emissions, an upper target clearly dreamt up purely to try and satisfy the opposing opinions within the chamber, but which worryingly could lend a legitimacy to moves to backtrack on commitment to a 30% reduction later on. Thankfully, many MEPs argued that the upper limit should be set at a 40% reduction - in fact, some MEPs were pushing for a minimum 40% with extra funding for climate change measures in the developing world. Such radical measures were always unlikely to pass, and unfortunately there was a degree of inevitable pontificating over some obvious arguments on targets: they should be realistic in order to be credible, there must be a clear plan and stages behind them, etc.

Indeed, while it was important to have this debate, it was disappointing in how simplistic the debate was - MEPs chipping in on the old, well-trodden issues of historical responsibility for emissions and responsibility to act, the question of what degree of technology transfer and wealth transfer is politically possible and practically effective, enforcing the proper use of wealth transfers, the role of the US (how far can we lead, and how necssary the US is), "realism" in international relations versus the "idealism" of combating climate change, transport and trade, etc. There is a wealth of issues behind each of these topics to be debated and addressed, yet the Committee lapsed into simplistic idealistic appeals and statements-of-position. To a certain degree this is inevitable in any case - MEPs have to represent the positions of their parties and the concerns of their constituents, and many of the points made were very good, and needed to be made or re-made to highlight the necessity of rising to the climate challenge and the direction of the commitments already made. However, the political effect of the draft is lessened by the lack of detail and a lack of scrutiny of the Parliament's own commitment to tackling climate change.

What would I have liked to have seen from the debate?

Well, since the measure being debated is a resolution, I think the Parliament should have focused on how it could add political force to its argument. Resolutions are non-binding political statements, but they shouldn't be treated as an opportunity to air positions or tack on radical arguments that the Parliament may not be able or willing to support in practice. The Committee should have focused more on the areas of environmental legislation that the European Parliament would be looking to tighten up or create in the event of a good deal.** It would be too much to ask for consensus on legislative questions on measures that aren't before the Parliament, but areas should have been highlighted where the Committee would be willing to act more radically.

If this had been done (and some of these questions were touched on, but only touched on), the Committee would have been able to produce a much more politically effective resolution. In the US it's been noted that the Congress is slowing down a domestic climate change deal, so in order to be more effective, the Committee should have been clearer on the role it would play to push for environmental measures combating climate change: with a clear position of support for action from the Parliament, the Commission and EU as a whole would be strengthened in its negotiating position, as it would show that the EU would be coming to the Conference with a strong domestic consensus behind it; that the EU would be capable of delivering on its promises.

It would also boost the Committee's own credibility when it meets with its US counterpart at the end of the month (27th-29th October).

*I couldn't insert the link for some reason, so here's the long version:

**The Parliament has no legislative initiative power, but it can request draft legislation from the Commission, and show a commitment to positively ammending all relavent legislation put before it. It would also enbolden the Commission to be more radical on climate change, or ensure that it maintains its commitments.

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