Cement for the BRICs? – the EU’s Search for a Partner in Climate Action

After the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) in Copenhagen in 2009, the European Union is weary of finding support for the CoP 16 in Mexico later this year. At the European Journalism Center Climate Action Conference in Brussels (Oct 25-27), this became apparent when key EU officials stressed the need for action on the global scale. Yet, not all states share the EU’s sense of urgency.

Chris Davies, member of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee, stressed the fact that “the wagon has hit the mud” and at the CoP 16 in Cancun, “we [the EU] have to keep the wheels turning”. This attitude was further elaborated upon in his comment that “in order to shift up a gear, we need a plague“, which would make the political pressure unbearable. In this sense, the EU cannot convince the world to adopt anti-climate change measures similar to those in place in Europe because “if you look out the window, you do not see climate change” and therefore “the political will has gone missing”. With a note of pessimism, he elaborated that: “in the long-term, we are stuffed“.

Mr. Davies further framed the question for the EU’s role on the world stage as: “What is the point of imposing a price on carbon if it will only have an impact on 13% of global CO2 emissions (the EU’s share of world CO2 emissions)?” This rhetorical comment is the reason why the EU is looking for support. Mr. Davies’ colleague in the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee, Peter Liese, remarked that at the CoP 15, “Mr. Obama was not able to commit [to a binding agreement] and China was not willing to commit”.

Yet, in the debate surrounding the EU’s search for a partner on action against climate change, four states were named as potential supporters: Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC countries). Based on the fact that Brazil is one of the top ten economies in the world, Russia is one of the EU’s biggest trading partners, and that India and China are the fourth and first (respectively) largest CO2 emitters in the world, this is a logical standpoint. Even so, Mr. Liese dampened any rise in hope by stating that the problems faced in these states are very different. While in Brazil the biggest threat stems from de-forestation, in China and India it is linked to pollution from economic activity, and the Russian view of climate change is based on events such as the recent heatwave in the summer of 2010. Coming to an agreement with partners who face such a range of difficulties is the EU’s main challenge at the CoP 16 in Cancun, with the hope that, as at Copenhagen, the BRICs can be negotiated with as a group.

With the BRICs being the fastest-growing economies in the world, the EU cannot “ask people not to have welfare… we need people to have cars, it is their right!” In Mr. Liese’s opinion, “the challenge is a technological one“. As one example shows, by producing more efficient (and eventually 100% green) cars, and at the same time producing electricity in a sustainable way, the problem can be tackled without asking people not to drive. All this requires “a change in lifestyle” and the EU can certainly look to China for the potential technological innovation required to bring it about.

In the end, this debate can be summarized in a metaphor used by Mr. Davies: “When you put a frog in boiling water, it jumps out immediately. Yet, if you put a frog in cold water and slowly bring it to boil, it will die from the heat”. With the EU sounding the alarm for broad and common participation at Cancun, at least one of the BRICs could prove the key partner to making a meaningful stand.

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