Analysis: EU puts Eurozone crisis aside and backs Kyoto

EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard

EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard (Source: EC library)

By John Parnell

With the EU backing Kyoto to the hilt and extending its carbon emission reduction targets, attention could now turn to the group’s wider ambitions for Durban.

The bloc is currently committed to a reduction of 20% but has now agreed to extend that ambition, although it has not committed to an actual figure.

Speculation in recent weeks suggested that the extension was increasingly unlikely as economic pressure was ramped up. Could this positive step be a sign of good things to come from the EU as climate finance takes centre stage at the COP17 talks?

“The Eurozone crisis won’t help…it takes politicians’ attention off other issues,” Stephen Tindale, former executive director of Greenpeace and now associate fellow at the Centre for European Reform told RTCC.

“The crisis and budget deficit also mean countries are less prepared to invest in energy efficiency and low carbon options. There’s not enough money, and this will make the EU position in Durban weaker than it would have been otherwise,” says Tindale.

Opposition to an extension from with in the EU has also surfaced. Several members from Eastern Europe with dirtier energy generation and a greater proportion of heavy industry, expressed concern that further cuts would come too soon for them.

The decision to extend cuts would suggest confidence from more developed economies such as Germany, in their ability to offset lower reductions from other members.

The UK, one of the nation’s pushing for 30%, has backed today’s announcement from the EU. A statement from the Department for Energy and Climate Change obtained by RTCC said: “The UK supports an EU move to a 30% cut in emissions by 2020 based on 1990 levels and that this happens as quickly as possible.”

“It’s in Britain’s interests that Europe does more to cut emissions because that’s how we can reduce our dependency on oil, make our energy supplies more secure and open up opportunities for jobs in the green industries of the future. We believe that in cutting emissions going further, sooner, is cheaper in the long run. Countries outside Europe are already taking action.”

The next question regarding the EU’s participation at COP17 will be the funding gap left by the expected demise of Kyoto-based finance in 2012 and the proposed Green Climate Fund (GCF), not set to launch till 2020.

“The reality is that everyone thought it [GCF] was the low hanging fruit but it seems we have no money anywhere,” says Annika Ahtonen from the EU Policy Centre.

“At the moment it’s understandable that there are other concerns…states are worried about how much it will increase costs, [which] measures and sectors it will involve. There are questions to be answered,” says Ahtonen.

One of those questions receiving much attention ahead of the UN climate change conference is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol and its related mechanisms.

The EU has been one of the more enthusiastic players at UNFCCC talks in the past and the rise in emissions reduction commitments could also increase expectations for the COP17 talks themselves.

“The UNFCCC has a role to play but there is far too much attention into the top down approach of setting targets, rather than more practical measure of bottom up energy efficiency and carbon reduction,” says Tindale.

“I think the EU is capable of much more on climate change, whether there is an agreement or not. The top down or bottom up argument is academic…the international negotiations do help – Kyoto is not a necessary condition.”

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