More clarity is needed during international climate change negotiations

A two-day summit of European leaders who gathered in Brussels last week to try and advance the seemingly stalled negotiations for a new, strengthened post-Kyoto agreement on limiting global greenhouse gas emissions was, unfortunately, both inconclusive and unclear.

Yes, as the clock ticked inexorably towards the all-important United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, EU policy makers did agree that developing nations will require a transfer of about €100 billion a year from the developed world in order to effectively tackle global warming by 2020.

The politicians also agreed that the international public sector will provide poor nations between €22 to 50 billion annually to fight climate change within 11 years.

Indeed, the leaders even said the EU will “pay its fair share” of the transfers to emerging economies that are struggling to provide better lives for their citizens while also trying to halt and reduce destructive CO2 levels from burning fossil fuels.

As wonderful as that all sounds, however, the leaders — perhaps in a bit of 11th hour posturing — did not commit the EU to an actual figure and said that decision would not be made until after the highly-anticipated Copenhagen meeting.

In fairness, they did focus international attention on the need to deal seriously and quickly with finding a new climate change treaty to take affect when the existing Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.

But whether — as José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, summed up on Friday — Europe can now “look the rest of the world in their eyes and say we . . . have done our job,” when it comes to being ready for the upcoming UN conference, remains to be seen.

While saying the EU has a clear, ambitious, and unified message on climate finance, Barroso added “our offer is not a blank cheque: we are ready to act, if our partners deliver.”

“If we want developing countries to come to the table with serious commitments then we need developed countries to put money on the table for adaptation to climate change and to help finance developing countries mitigation efforts. We need to put our money where our mouth is.”

Swirling around Barroso’s comments was the fact that nine of the 27 EU Member States fear they will not be able to afford their share of any climate change transfers to the developing world. The European Commission has previously indicated the EU could give developing countries between €2 and 15 billion a year to fight and adapt to climate change.

It is not surprising that a number of environmental groups were unimpressed by the European summit.

Noting the politicians had opted for vague messages on most of the essential issues blocking the global warming negotiations, WWF said the ambiguous position would further diminish hopes of strong European leadership in the international fight against climate change.

“It is especially frustrating that no clear European financial offer to developing countries has been agreed, and that the increase in CO2 emission reduction targets is made conditional upon comparable efforts by other developed countries,” said Jason Anderson, head of EU Climate and Energy Policy at WWF.

Sonja Meister, climate campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe, was even more blunt.

“Europe has failed once again to say how much it is prepared to contribute for climate finance,” said Meister. “Heads of state only cited global figures which are completely inadequate, as are the targets they have set for cutting emissions. In every way the EU is shirking its historical responsibilities and blocking progress towards the just and fair agreement the world needs in Copenhagen.”

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) understands that while climate change negotiations are continuing, nations are at times reluctant to voice their bottom line on what emissions-reductions targets they will embrace and how much money they will contribute to developing countries in the battle against global warming.

EWEA also sympathises with the frustration being expressed by environmental groups trying to galvanise public opinion and force leaders to quickly come to a much-needed new agreement on reducing greenhouse gases.

After all, there is only a little more than a month left before the Copenhagen talks commence.

In the brief time left remaining, EWEA hopes that European leaders — who today are in Washington for the EU-US summit on climate change — speak clearly and openly about how to cooperatively mitigate the potentially catastrophic disaster that science says unchecked global warming would likely cause.

Rémi Gruet, Regulatory Affairs Adviser – Climate Change