Wednesday 21 October 2009

Think2 Post: "Judging Europe"

I've written another post on the Th!nk2 platform - a bit of analysis of the EU approach to climate change, going into a bit more detail than on the new ThinkCast episode Waldo Vanderhaeghen, Joe Litobarski and I participated in (give it a listen!).


[...][...Introducing the ThinkCast Episode...][...]

In this episode - moderated by Waldo Vanderhaeghen, with Joe and I as panelists - we discussed the EU's record on climate change, and the prospects of its climate policy both at and post-Copenhagen. It was a good debate (20 minutes long), and I think we covered quite a bit of ground (thanks to Waldo's questioning). There was some difference of opinion between Joe and I over how the EU should be judged/seen when it comes to climate change - though, since it was never really explicit in the podcast, I could be off the mark on this. I think that Joe's right that the EU should be seen as a unit to some degree - on it's performance on environmental legislation and it's overall effectiveness and impact, for example - but the member states retain an enormous amount of power and responsibility in this area. When we heard about Samso, the energy-independent Danish island, most of us were struck - and inspired - by the level of community involvement and ownership over the project. But there was another side to it - the sheer scale of investment from the community, the private sector/banks and the government/EU. And the fact is, that the EU cannot play this role on a European scale: the EU doesn't have the budget or taxing and redistributive powers to make large enough investments to revolutionize the European energy market - that's up to the member states, who will largely choose their courses of action within the limits set internationally and at the European level.

That's not to downplay the importance of the EU - the political and legal culture it provides is invaluable to fighting climate change, and it can be instrumental in some investments - but I just wanted to highlight that power and responsibility is shared and spread out across the European political system. Which makes it very hard when it comes to judging Europe.

I think we were all agreed on the importance of the legal basis for acting on climate change.

During the Th!nk2 launch event, we were told that good, solid legal mechanisms for tackling climate change would be the best outcome at COP15, and it's not hard to imagine why: introducing binding targets introduces the rule of law, making political ducking of the issue much harder (and in principle, impossible without consequences). In the Th!nkCast, Waldo asked me if the EU should seek to export its Emissions Trading Scheme model to the rest of the world - while I raised some criticisms of the scheme, I generally think it's a good mechanism, and agree with Joe that the problems with the scheme are largely due to it being an experiment in climate change legislation. But if the EU were to export the fundamental principles of its environmental legislation, then it would be politically quite revolutionary.

Should the EU export its climate change model? Yes - though it is a tough task, because it really requires projecting the European project onto the world stage. I was reminded of an FT article I read recently: Europe's plot to take over the world - where the argument was that the European countries were taking over by "Europeanizing" the G20. Meetings, bureaucracy, aims, targets, agreements... Basically extending the culture and machinary of the EU and the rule of law into the international sphere. We still have to see if it will work with the financial sector and the G20 (though it'd never reach the scale of the EU itself); could it work with climate change?

It's a big question, because it challenges the old ideas of national sovereignty and the "softness" of international law in a way that's mundane and normal for most Europeans (surely it's common sense to pull together and agree on shared rules and principles?, we might say) but it's a big step for everyone else, and you can bet on a lot of resistance to the idea. Will it happen? Could it work? Success here will be even harder to judge...

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