The EU Needs to Keep the Pressure on Others, says EU Climate Action Commissioner

“Cancun can deliver!” stated the EU’s Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard at the European Journalism Center Conference in Brussels on Oct. 26th. In the highest of hopes, the CoP 16 in Cancun later this year will have to achieve what Copenhagen did not. Yet, the question which arises out of this optimistic statement is ‘What can it realistically deliver’?

Commissioner Hedegaard went on to explain that the position of the EU at the CoP 16 will not vary from the stance it took in Copenhagen. Yet, the approach taken will be different in order for last year’s story not to be repeated. With the overall aim being “to cash-in from Copenhagen“, the new, practical and stepwise procedure for the negotiations in Mexico will be based on the need for specific action in specific areas. The political deal, which is the Copenhagen Accord, will have to be accepted by everyone and the enforcement mechanisms for delivering what was agreed will have to be initiated. The resulting deal would have to be “a balanced package”, where everyone does their share.

The main challenge for Cancun to deliver is the will of world leaders. In the Q&A, Commissioner Hedegaard was asked what would result from the CoP 16, and the answer was “I cannot answer because it depends on the political will”. By pointing out that some of the key actors for the drafting of the Copenhagen Accord were least-developed countries, she stressed the need to increase the trust between the biggest players (China and the USA) and furthermore, not to reduce the pressure on these states. “We cannot afford to remove the pressure from others,” she stated, and elaborated that “if the EU takes on more [accepts a 30% reduction of CO2 target unconditionally], the political pressure in the US and China would lessen”. The end result would be no global reduction of emissions.

Since reducing CO2 emission is a world-wide effort, the Commissioner stated that “it is crucial that Cancun delivers”. What the EU aims to convince the other parties is that handling climate change wisely can lead to creating economic growth and enhancing energy security. In this sense, “politicians know what they want to do, we just need the will to do it”.

When the discussion came to address the big players on the international climate action scene (the USA, China and India), Ms. Hedegaard held a firm stance that these states have very different viewpoints. In her words about the up-coming elections in the US, “there is a big chance for the parties to be against two things: climate change and gay marriage“. With this outlook, the EU cannot expect much from their neighbor across the Atlantic. A different attitude comes up when addressing India: “no one is asking real cuts from India; just a deviation from business as usual.” Yet, the Commissioner was optimistic about China: “I believe that many in the US and Europe, when they see the next 5-year plan of China, we will have a change in the discussion”. Her hopes were supported by the fact that “China might be slow in negotiations but they are doing things in reality“.

In the end, the EU’s position in Cancun will be a practical effort to seek a step forward from what was achieved at Copenhagen. Commissioner Hedegaard ended the discussion by stating “I wish it was only tactical to downplay expectations”. Furthermore, “Europe will only be listened to if it manages to speak with one voice”. This is the key to making others deliver more. In a way, what is needed is an increase in political pressure, but also an increase in political will to participate rather than be left out.

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