Pressure mounts on EU as UN climate talks falter

Australia and Japan’s decision to downgrade climate targets leaves EU shouldering heavy expectations

By Sophie Yeo in Warsaw

Pressure is mounting on the European Union to make up for the lack of ambition shown by fellow developed countries Japan, Australia and Canada at UN talks in Poland.

Japan has attracted the brunt of fury after reducing its international emissions reduction targets, but negotiators from developing countries have told RTCC of their disappointment that the EU has failed to set out out a clear and ambitious pathway to a climate change deal in 2015.

Seychelles Ambassador Ronald Jumeau, a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said he hoped that the actions of Japan and Australia would not lead to other developed countries easing off on their ambitions.

“In fact, we hope some of them would take up the slack,” he said.

“We know the EU are having problems getting their act together, but we would hope they would look to what’s happening in the Philippines rather than look to what’s happening in Japan, Canada and Australia as to when they are planning what to do next.”

Speaking today in Warsaw, he said that for AOSIS to be reassured that the EU was maintaining its leadership position, he would like to hear greater ambition coming forward at the ministerial level meetings taking place next week.

This should be directed towards the development of a loss and damage mechanism and pre-2020 commitments, on top of emissions reductions targets for a 2015 agreement.

He admitted that the EU was not in a position to offer a concrete increase on its pre-2020 ambition next week, as any decision would have to be passed through the European Commission back in Brussels.

“We’re not asking necessarily for more commitments,” he said. “We’re asking for more support for things that we’re already doing, so that we can between now and 2020 show an increase in ambition through not necessarily pledges and commitments but in practical things that can be done on the ground in our countries, so that’s what we would look forward to.”

He added that progress on working out a clear pathway on how to strike the new deal would be a positive signal: “We’re beginning to plan for a pathway for Peru [in 2014] as well, and we would like to see more concrete suggestions from our partners on the road to Peru.”

Trust

Many developing countries say they are still concerned the EU has not ratified the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, agreed at UN talks in Doha last December.

Nicaragua’s delegation head Paul Oquist Kelley told RTCC this had created an atmosphere of distrust at the talks.

“We need to emphasise to our partners the need for them to fulfil their commitments, and that we can see no way to assume further commitments if they do not assume their mitigation and finance commitments.

Quamrul Chowdhury, lead negotiator for the Least Developed Countries, told RTCC that a failure to come up with a mechanism through which to deal with loss and damage would also have a negative impact on the levels of trust between developed and developing countries.

“An international mechanism for loss and damage is a strike here in Warsaw, because that will help keep an assurance for a robust agreement in 2015,” adding that such a mechanism should not only address economic losses but also the social losses that come with climate change.

Failure to achieve this, he said, “will erode the level of confidence, the level of trust. In this convention we need to build a level of trust so we can build on a robust agreement in 2015. For that from now on we have to work very hard, day in day out, for 24 hours a day.”

Domestic targets

Research by Climate Tracker Action coming out next week will show that the EU will have to increase its domestic 2020 target to a 45% emissions reduction target by 2020 if it is to maintain its position as a role model. This is an unlikely target, considering its current target of 20% emissions reductions.

The EU also needs to commit to the upper end of its target of a 80-95% emissions reduction by 2050, said Wendel Trio, director of the European branch of the Climate Action Network, speaking today at a panel in Warsaw.

This is a realistic target he said, as “continuing with this pathway of what we’ve done over the last five years will bring us to 95%.” This would involve a 2% reduction per year of emissions.

Discussions over a 2030 package are still ongoing, but the EU is due to release its preliminary decisions in January, which will be finalised in March.

Marion Vieweg-Mersmann of Climate Analytics told RTCC: “There is a strong link between the domestic discussions and the international discussions.

“The fear of many is that if we lock ourselves into non-ambitious targets until 2030 it’ll be too late, and the willingness of countries to increase their targets once they’ve made them official, we’ve seen in this process there’s not a great appetite for that.”

But Jakub Koniecki, a member of the Climate Action cabinet within the EU, told RTCC that he disagreed with the perception that the EU had taken a back seat in the current international negotiations, and that it continued to set an example to other countries.

He said: “Looking at what we do domestically and looking not only at the headline reduction targets, we are delivering on the Kyoto commitments obviously, but the instruments we have developed such as the emissions trading scheme, such as the way we finance things… these are things you can really easily copy if you like, so I think it is quite good leadership.”

Protest

Climate activists registered their anger at a perceived lack of progress at the COP19 talks in a Climate Justice Protest march through the streets of Warsaw earlier today.

Amid a heavy police presence, 3000 people walked from the Palace of Culture in the centre of the city to the National Stadium, where the UN conference is taking place.

NGOs say they are concerned at the level of business engagement with the talks, and also a decision by UN climate chief Christiana Figueres to attend a coal summit hosted by Poland on Monday.

“Governments have come here and we’re moving backwards,” WWF’s head of Climate and Energy Samantha Smith told RTCC at the protest.

“We’re super frustrated, we’re hoping this process next week can make some forward movement, but if it doesn’t, we really have to question why are governments here, why are we here, and what is the UNFCCC Secretariat doing about this?” she added.

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