Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Who wil make the first step?

Adelina Marini, December 7, 2009

This question arose in the first day of the 11-day climate change summit in Copenhagen, organised by the UN. The conference was opened by the Danish prime minister Lars Loke Rasmussen, by the mayor of Copenhagen and by the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change Dr. Rajendra Pachauri. But the main host of the summit is the Danish minister of the environment and climate change Ms. Connie Hedegaard, designated European Commissioner for climate change.

During the official opening ceremony, beside the presidium, a group of young people from all over the world stood with cubes with numbers and posters, saying to the audience that 10 mn people want an ambitious deal. After the opening a member of the group from the region of the Pacific made a heartfelt statement. She explained in tears that the nations along the Pacific coast will be most affected by climate change, in spite of having no contribution to climate change. It was even possible some of those countries to disappear unless adequate measures are taken.

Later in the day there were press conferences of national delegations. The representatives of the EU - the Swedish minister of environment Andreas Carlgren whose country presides the European Council, his colleague from Spain which will take over the EU Presidency on 1st of January and representatives from the Commission, were quite forthcoming in saying that the conference must produce significant results. The European delegation was most specific in terms of commitments and made strong appeals to the rest of the participants to take their fair share in the global efforts to restrain global warming below 2 degrees centigrades.

According to Andreas Carlgren, the ball now is in the playground of the US and China who knew very well what is required of them and they should demonstrate will to increase the stakes because their current commitments were not enough. In the meantime, the EU firmly stated that it will stick to its commitment for a 30% emissions reduction by 2020 but only if the rest of the countries take commensurable commitments.

It was indeed the commensurability that is in the basis of one of the biggest disputes. Without naming specific numbers, required from big polluters, the Swedish minister explained that beside aiming at the top of their capabilities, the participating countries should agree on the way to measure commitments. The US and China have so far proposed targets using 2005 as a basis year while most countries, including the EU base their commitments on 1990 levels.

The American delegation explained, however, that Washington for the first time in its history was that much engaged in tackling climate change. The American proposal was based entirely on scientific evidence and it did not matter which year would be taken as basic if global target of 80% emissions reduction was reached by mid-century. With a firm voice the American representative said that his country was on the right trajectory and would fulfill its commitments. The American delegation responded to criticism that the American target was a low one, by saying that the simple fact that president Obama would participate in the final day of negotiations on the 18th of December, demonstrates clearly Washington's will to get involved with a different proposal once the rest of the countries raise the stakes.

However, the Americans underlined that unless global efforts were put in place, it would not matter what the US was doing on the matter. Washington also proposes $10 bn aid for poor nations to cope with climate change consequences. For comparison, the EU suggested 100 bn euro annually by 2020. This is the amount, according to Brussels, that is achievable for the developed world to help developing countries.

The representatives of Bangladesh and Nepal said that time should not be lost in disputes about money and percentages. Concrete and fast actions were needed most. Bangladesh whose population suffers many times per year from floods with many victims, is among the most threatened nations in the world. And Nepal, which is situated at 4 km above sea level, has no less problems, caused by the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas. Politicians from those states called on developed countries to take their share of responsibility for climate change, which is now a reality.

If we can judge from the first day of the Copenhagen summit, the expectations are that in the last day would be the heaviest horse trading. That is when the American president Barack Obama said he would attend. The US still insists for a political agreement and not a legally binding one, while the EU and many of the most affected nations say the agreement should be binding. According to the American delegation, however, the process of climate change does not end in Copenhagen and a political agreement is possible to lead to concrete results.