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EU climate chief asks for leadership

Richard Black | 08:18 UK time, Thursday, 15 July 2010

To Storey's Gate in central London, for lunch with the EU's climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

She is as well-informed about current global climate politics as anyone, having played a leading role in the run-up to last year's Copenhagen summit in her role as Danish climate minister, and now leading EU diplomacy on the issue.

Connie_HedegaardProspects for a binding climate treaty at the UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico this year?

It's clear that the EU isn't planning for it. The idea, said Ms Hedegaard, is to show "delivery" on issues of substance this time round, to break down the logjam of distrust, with the aim of putting the political pieces in play that could produce a binding treaty at the South African-hosted UN climate summit of 2011.

This will disappoint some developing countries and also some campaigners who want something sooner; but given events elsewhere in the world, it's hard to argue Ms Hedegaard isn't bang on the money when it comes to prospects for the Cancun summit.

"Have you seen anything new from the US or China in the last six months? Because I haven't," she asked rhetorically.

On China, she later clarified: lots is being done in the country itself.

The next five-year plan is currently being finalised; and indications are that the nexus of climate mitigation, energy security and green growth are going to dominate once it's published.

Sometimes on climate-oriented Earth Watch threads there comes a comment such as "Oh, so it's peak oil now", or "So it's really about exporting wind turbines".

With some governments, it's about everything; and one suspects that's exactly what's going on in China now.

The fact that three of the top 10 wind turbine manufacturers are now Chinese (after giving the Danes and Germans a decade's start) is undoubtedly positive for exports and economic growth.

If populating the Chinese landscape with wind farms helps mitigate the climate impacts that we know Chinese leaders are concerned about - well, all the better for that particular policy. The word is "synergy".

Wind _turbineBut I digress.

Internationally, China has not put anything new on the table - that's clear, though it was always going to be the case while the five-year plan was being written.

And neither has the US - in fact, as I've described before, if anything it's retrenching from its Copenhagen commitment.

The latest version of Senate legislation - even if passed - looks likely to have a markedly lower impact on US emissions than the original Waxman-Markey bill.

Analysts are also becoming concerned about the Japanese political situation.

The previous prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, pledged almost the most ambitious carbon cuts in Copenhagen, and opened the national coffers for "fast-start finance" wider than any other country.

He's now out of office; and his successor, Naoto Kan, has just lost his Democratic Party of Japan majority in the upper house of parliament. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party is traditionally more resistant to carbon cuts.

Ms Hedegaard is insistent that the EU should reclaim the gowns of leadership that were ripped from its shoulders in Copenhagen's final hours.

I'm sure she's sincere in her aim. But whether EU countries, particularly the new entrants, want to take up the reins with her isn't entirely clear - as unclear, you might say, as the bloc's definition of "new and additional finance", the element of the Copenhagen Accord that in theory ought to be realised first.

And whether others are prepared to be led is an even bigger question.

After lunch, my bus ride home took me via Copenhagen Street.

There were roadworks.

UPDATE:Ministers leading on climate from France, Germany and the UK have just published a joint letter in the Financial Times, Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung arguing that the EU should move to its higher target of 30%.

Chris Huhne, Jean-Louis Borloo and Dr Norbert Rottgen argue that the 20% target and the consequently low carbon price are not enough to drive serious investment in low-carbon technology.

"If we stick to a 20% cut, Europe is likely to lose the race to compete in the low-carbon world to countries such as China, Japan or the US - all of whom are looking to create a more attractive investment environment by introducing low carbon policy frameworks and channelling their stimulus packages into low-carbon investment."

As Connie Hedegaard pointed out, moving to 30% would be important politically. It's not, she said, something to be announced lightly; timing and context are everything.

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