Wednesday, 30 November 2011

EU takes hardline stance at UN climate talks

Europe is taking the toughest negotiating stand it has ever adopted on global warming at this week's UN climate talks in Durban, departing from decades of "dovish" practice by insisting stiff conditions must be met by China and other major developing countries if there is to be any global climate treaty.
The hardline stance has already caused consternation among developing countries at the talks, and the discord threatens the future of the Kyoto protocol. But the bloc is determined not to back down, as officials are angry that the EU's goodwill on climate change has been taken for granted.
"It's very important that other major economies join the effort – it would not make sense for only the EU to take on a second commitment under the Kyoto protocol," Poland's under-secretary of state for the environment, Joanna Mackowiak-Pandera, told the Guardian. Poland is in a key position at this year's talks – as holder of the revolving EU presidency, its ministers lead the bloc's delegation. They have led the sea-change in Europe's public attitude, which marks the biggest shift in stance in nearly 20 years of climate talks.
Pandera added: "We already have challenging, ambitious targets, so I think it's crucial that others also enter into the Kyoto protocol, which I know will not be easy."
At stake is the survival of the Kyoto protocol, the only international treaty stipulating emissions cuts, as the EU represents the last hope of any major developed countries signing up to a continuation when its current provisions expire in 2012. Although developing countries are insisting on a "second commitment period" that would run until 2020, Europe's major partners in Kyoto – Japan, Russia and Canada – have abandoned the accord, and the US has ruled out signing up.
That leaves Europe in a head-to-head battle with emerging economies – chiefly China, but also India, Brazil and the hosts South Africa – over what conditions the latter group must fulfil if there is to be a continuation of the totemic treaty.
China has proposed that developed countries should take on international legally binding commitments to cut emissions, but that developing countries should be allowed to submit weaker plans lacking the same legal force - they would be voluntary, or binding only at a national level. That idea is backed by India, which is adamant that it will only take on emissions-cutting targets on a voluntary basis, without committing to a legal instrument.
But Europe's negotiators now want much more. The Polish presidency is leading a group of member states that want to ensure the conditions for a second commitment period include firm commitments to "legal parallelism" – the principle that if the EU signs up to an international legally binding treaty, developing countries must do the same.
"Different countries have different opinions, but in my view they should ratify a new agreement in a legally binding international form," said Pandera. "It should have international legally binding status, not just national plans as national laws can be changed easily. Our view is that taking an international agreement will be much stronger and changes could be agreed only with other parties."
Europe's new stance is all the more remarkable because virtually since the beginning of the 20-year talks it has been seen as the leading "dove", seeking to smooth over deep differences between the rich and poor world, trying to draw the US back into the negotiations under the presidency of George W Bush, and offering billions of euros of financial inducements to developing countries. The bloc has the toughest carbon targets in the world, with a pledge of 20% cuts in emissions compared with 1990 levels by 2020, and an offer to increase that to 30% cuts if other countries join in.
On Wednesday, China's leading climate negotiator, Su Wei told China Daily that he regards Kyoto as a "cornerstone" of the climate talks. "I think EU is just shifting the goalpost from one place to another," Su said. "This is actually not an efficient way to do things, because we need to accomplish the goals one by one."
"But since EU is the group of countries who would seriously consider a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries are also open and ready to talk to them about how to address that issue," said Su.
The change in tone from Europe at this year's talks is partly down to the Polish presidency. Poland has been notably hardline in opposing stiffer emissions cuts, in part owing to its heavily coal-dependent economy, and there is a degree of climate scepticism among prominent Polish politicians.
But the change also reflects anger among member states and EU officials at the reception given to Europe's proposals, and the waning power that the EU has wielded at the long-running talks as other nations have taken its dovish stance for granted. At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, the EU was pointedly left out of last-minute negotiations to forge a partial agreement, and officials were visibly flummoxed when the US led China, Brazil, India and South Africa in proclaiming a deal had been done without Europe.
The EU has also been stung by criticism from developing countries that it is not moving fast enough, and the hardline stance is in part a reaction to that. As officials privately point out, the EU's member states have offered to do more than any other rich nation. By contrast, Japan is seeking to water down its existing emissions-cutting targets, and the US has been actively blocking the ability of the green climate fund to disburse money to poor nations.
"Look at the US – what are they doing? Look at the other developed countries. No one is focusing on them, it's all about criticising Europe but we have done the most," said one official.

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