Friday, 29 January 2010

20% is the limit of ambition with the EU

Following the failure of the EU’s policy at COP15 - where there was no agreement on binding targets of any kind, never mind enough commitment from other countries for the EU’s offer of an increased commitment to a 30% reduction – the EU has decided to stick to the 20% reduction target. Disappointed by Copenhagen, Europe appears loath to push itself any further.

Obviously this is a blow to the Green movement in Europe, and people in other countries who may have been hoping for the EU to turn up the pressure of example. Without higher binding targets, there will be a worse impact on the climate. Putting off tougher cuts, even if the EU isn’t breaking its word by doing so, the EU’s power of example diminishes, and the green movement can charge the EU with lacking leadership with a certain justification.

But the political attraction of leading by example – which is still strong in Brussels – may have lost some of its shine. The moral high ground, and the offer to take on tougher burdens than the rest of the world, not only failed to produce a deal at Copenhagen - it failed to ensure a central role for Europe in negotiations! To the EU, the failure of COP15 is no doubt a huge blow to morale, and not just in terms of climate change. During the conference, South Africa had greater diplomatic access and importance at points, and to a regional bloc with concerns over its global position and that prided itself on moral leadership on this issue, the marginalisation was devastating.

If offers of greater targets and a past track record on environmental legislation got the EU no respect and little influence, then Greenpeace’s claims that moving to 30% on existing commitments as the only way of reviving talks loose their force. The question is: why should we? We’ve tried that approach.

The 30% offer was conditional, and a diplomatic tool, and as such future offers could loose their force if other countries thought that the EU would continue to forge ahead on its own whether they tagged along or not. It may dismay advocates of greater action, but the more realist diplomatic arguments may sound more convincing in Brussels in the post-COP15 world.

Will a more hard-headed negotiating approach help lead to setting down more binding global cuts, or is it just a diplomatic sulk that won’t achieve anything?

Cross-posted on Think About It!

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