Copenhagen & beyond: where now for the EU?

The EU was marginalized amid the realpolitik which dominated at Copenhagen. As a consequence the Copenhagen Accord neither conceptually nor substantively reflected the EU’s negotiating position.

In a recent policy brief (available here) I argue that this failure must lead to a reevaluation of its modus operandi at international negotiations. This is particularly true if Europe wishes to match its rhetoric of leadership on climate protection with real influence.

The extent of the EU’s failure an be gauged from both the extent to which the Copenhagen Accord fell short of the Danish Text which was leaked at the start of the talks, and by the reaction of EU leaders to the Accord.

The key elements of the Danish Text were as follows:

•    A framework for long term cooperative action which would entail:
o    Peak in emissions by 2020;
o    Global emissions reduced by 50% by 2050 on 1990 baseline;
o    Minimum 80% emissions reduction by 2050 for developed countries; and
o    Date for peaks in developing country emissions.
•    An adaptation Framework, and commitment to “fast start” and long-term financing.
•    Finance to be “additional”, overseen by a Climate Fund, with “balanced” board to choose projects.
•    Forest cover stabilised in developing countries.
•    Emissions from shipping and aviation reduced.
•    Global comprehensive carbon markets to replace project based approaches.
•    Investment in climate related R&D quadrupled by 2020 in developed countries and a range of measures, including the establishment of UNFCCC technology body to ensure cooperative approach to technology transfer.
•     “Robust” monitoring reporting and verification of mitigation efforts for all countries.
•    Mitigation plans drafted and reviewed by all parties to the agreement.

Although the EU’s fingerprints can be detected in the 2 degree target and the agreement on financing, the list of EU objectives not achieved is far lengthier. Centrally, all meaningful mitigation targets were removed; aviation and shipping are not mentioned; no robust monitoring, reporting and verification procedures were agreed; the section on technology transfer is so vague so as to be almost irrelevant; and no mention is made of emissions trading.
The EU lost the initiative to such an extent that the whole approach to the architecture of the proposed agreement has moved decisively in a direction that it does not favour (see previous blog).
EU leaders were not reticent in expressing the extent of their disappointment. China was singled out for criticism with senior European diplomats accusing China of “systematically wrecking the accord” and deconstructing the Danish text which was leaked at an early stage in the negotiations.

So where to now for the EU? Should it step aside and recognise that its influence at these negotiations is limited and that warming of 3-4 degrees is now inevitable by 2100?

The EU has a number of instruments that it can wield to steer negotiations back on a track that it favours in advance of COP16 in Mexico.

In the first place, it would seem unwise for the EU to offer a 30% emissions reduction in its “pledge” which is required before the end of January. The first lesson from Copenhagen is that putting your cards on the table to offer “leadership” is a flawed tactic.

Second, on financing, the Copenhagen Accord cites “meaningful commitments and transparency on implementation” as prerequisites for financial transfers. For the same reasons outlined above, the EU should attach strong conditionality to the proposed transfers.

Third and most importantly, the EU must mainstream climate change into its other external policy instruments such as access to markets and oversees development aid. The EU is the largest market in the world, and China’s the EU is also largest contributor of oversees development aid (ODA).

Using these and other available instruments, the EU must begin to build strategic alliances.

This must begin with an entente with the EU’s most natural ally: the US. There is much common ground and a willingness in the Obama Administration to sign an effective deal, as can be seen from the alleged agreement on large parts of the Danish Text.

The US, however, can and will not offer a mitigation target far beyond the -17% on 2005 levels that is on the table. It may therefore be necessary to go beyond current commitments on financing, and the US in particular should be encouraged to do so in the absence of a more stringent near-term mitigation target.

The terms of the alliance must appeal to poorer developing countries so that it is not perceived as “very dangerous….for developing countries” or “superimposed without discussion on the talks” as was alleged with the leaking of the Danish text.

Ultimately the objective must be to separate China from developing countries and the newly emerged BASIC block, and in particular, to split China on the one hand from India on the other.

As Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi pointed out “China cleverly deflected pressure by hiding behind small, poor countries and forging a negotiating alliance….the BASIC bloc”. It is not clear what this alliance offers Brazil and India.

China, unlike most of the G77, is perhaps more concerned with market access and technology transfer than financial transfers. In order for China to be encouraged into a progressive international framework, a border tariff/carbon tariff must therefore be on the table at negotiations.

Another issue which must be addressed by the EU is engagement with civil society organizations, may of whom are unprepared to publically criticize developing countries. For Christian Aid the Copenhagen failure was “the inevitable result of rich countries refusing adequately and fairly to shoulder their overwhelming responsibility. For Friends of the Earth it was because “…rich countries have bullied developing nations”. In the post-Copenhagen world, NGOs might be encouraged to play a more supportive role.

The EU must also present a more coherent front at negotiations. Coordination remains an enormous challenge for Europe. Speaking during her confirmation hearings as Commissioner for Climate Action on 15th 2010, January, Connie Hedegaard pointed out that: “The last hours in Copenhagen – China, India, the US, Russia Japan – each spoke with one voice while Europe spoke with many different voices,” adding “We are almost unable to negotiate.”

Many of the important negotiations came down to leaders sitting around a table. The Lisbon Treaty creates the position of President of the Council and Article 218 of TFEU states that the Commission’s new powers for negotiating international agreements would extend to “nominating the union negotiator or head of the union’s negotiating team”. If the EU wants to be taken seriously as a negotiating block, it must use these new positions and powers to present a more united front.

The EU is often ill at ease operating in a world of power politics. In 1995 at Srebrenica the impotence of the EU in the face of military aggression outside its borders was illustrated with tragic consequences. On that occasion the EU responded and a new European Security and Defense Policy (now CSDP) emerged some years later.

The EU is faced with a similar strategic challenge. How it responds will offer a clear indication of how he EU sees its global role in the 21st century.

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3 Responses to Copenhagen & beyond: where now for the EU?

  1. Cormac says:

    On the positive side, the stance of the EU as a whole on climate change shows the benefits of a truly historic international alliance when faced with global threats. Clearly the way of the future, if only countries both in and out would take note

  2. james nix says:

    Good post Joe. Your last point – “the last hours in Copenhagen – China, India, the US, Russia Japan – each spoke with one voice while Europe spoke with many different voices … we are almost unable to negotiate” needs to be tackled and quickly.

    The EU was side-lined. When Obama gathered a small group in a room he probably couldn’t even have secured one EU voice in there – even if there was a strong effort to secure same.

    Who will be that key voice in Mexico?

    Carbon import levy into the EU: putting in carbon import tariffs asap makes sense. The alternative is the continued off-shoring of manufacturing etc, with China / BASIC countries gaining rather than seeing consequences.

    What can Ireland do to advance the above two issues?

  3. Democracy Center says:

    Here at the Democracy Center we are working hard to draw attention to the impact of climate change already happening in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world. We’ve recently produced:

    A a video on Bolivia’s melting glaciers (

    A new article in Yes! Magazine (

    We are also getting ready to report on the upcoming World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (, an alternative response to failures of Copenhagen.

    Keep your eyes out for our coverage!

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