Is the Green EU Just Hot Green Cheese?
Published 15th October 2009 - 1 comments - 2372 views -
This evening (Thursday 15 October, 2009), I will be joined by Waldo Vanderhaeghen and Conor Slowey in an online discussion about Europe’s role as a global leader on climate change. The talk will be recorded and uploaded as a podcast. (P.S. You can listen to the previous episode of the TH!NK2 community podcast here).
So, is the EU a global leader on climate change? Do EU citizens have something to really be proud of, or is this all just hot cheese? I’ve been thinking about this question as I prepare for the podcast, and I’m sure it’s going to be a lively discussion. Waldo has already promised to ask biting questions, and has told me he will not stand for “dancing around the hot cheese” – which must be the Belgian way of saying – “don’t dodge the issue!”
It might be a good idea to get my thoughts down on paper (or down on monitor) before the podcast, otherwise I’m liable to become horribly confused. So, below are some of my general ideas about the key points Waldo is likely to raise. I’ll save some good stuff for the podcast – but here is the gist:
1) The EU’s targets are all talk – it won’t be able to meet them.
Well, most governments haven’t even set themselves targets – so the EU is already doing well. The targets that have been published (PDF) by industrialised countries only add up to a 9% to 16% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 (hat-tip Vihar Georgiev) . The EU, however, has already committed itself to a legally binding target of a 20% reduction by 2020, independent of what happens at Copenhagen. This is already done. The EU is also already still committed to the existing Kyoto targets (unlike, say, the US). In fact, at Kyoto in 1997 the EU set itself the highest reduction target of all the major industrialised countries (-8 percent).
Will it actually meet these targets? Well – it’s setting itself targets within targets. That’s how targetted the EU is. It’s set out proposals for reaching the 20% reduction target, including an emissions trading scheme, binding national targets for the adoption of renewable energy and targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions from new cars. Lovely, lovely targets. But the important thing to note about these targets is that they are legally binding. Unlike other international organisations, the European Court of Justice is a powerful institution, able to hold member states to account (more or less). These aren’t just empty promises – there are consequences attached.
So, the target of a 20% reduction by 2020 has been adopted by the EU – a target already way above almost anybody else (apart from Norway). The EU is even committed to upping its target to a 30% reduction if industrialised countries agree to meet that number as well. These targets, as I say, have already been announced.
2) Is Europe really so united?
However, the actual way the countries of Europe meet these lovely, lovely targets is ultimately up to each individual member state. There is no point-by-point plan explaining how Europe is going to achieve a 20% reduction. This is how the EU often works. Of course, the countries of Europe all have different circumstances and will all be trying to protect their own national interests to some extent – but they will also each know themselves the best tools to use in their specific situation.
It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than no system at all – and the EU institutions will be there to monitor and enforce the targets. This is more than can be said for many of the others that will be at Copenhagen.
3) How positive can we be about the climate change policy of the European Union?
I am fairly positive about the climate change policy of the European Union. I think, of all the world’s major economic powers, the EU is the only one making the right noises. It really has to be a group effort, though. The EU won’t be able to do it alone… and prospects don’t look good for Copenhagen.
EU Commission President Barroso, speaking last month, highlighted his concerns about COP15. He is “very, very worried by the prospects for Copenhagen. Negotiations are dangerously close to deadlock at this point [which could end up] delaying action against climate change perhaps for years.” In fact, Barroso said that Copenhagen risks being “the longest global suicide note in history” (hat-tip Vihar Georgiev).
So, yes, the EU is making the right promises. These are not completely “empty” promises – they are legally binding. There is no point-by-point roadmap to meeting these promises, because that’s not how the EU works. But it won’t mean much if the EU is doing it all alone.
About the author
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