The EU’s attempt to take leadership at UN climate talks is lame

COMMENT: Brussels wins the prize for coming first, but it has missed an opportunity to ensure Paris helps poorer countries

Many of the Maldives islands are at risk from rising sea levels (Pic: Nattu/Flickr)

Many of the Maldives islands are at risk from rising sea levels (Pic: Nattu/Flickr)

By Mattias Soderberg

Finally, the EU communication on a future Paris climate deal has been presented. 

I assume there has been a big number of staff involved in the process to formulate the document, and I expect that a number of Commissioners have been actively engaged in the discussions.

So I’m presuming not a single word has been misplaced or forgotten.

Nevertheless, this communication leaves us with huge question marks. Was this the intention?

One of the key climate priorities for EU is to engage with an active climate diplomacy and outreach.

The EU acknowledges that there will not be an ambitious climate agreement in Paris, December this year, unless there is constructive dialogue and cooperation between parties in the months to come.

Alliances must be built, bilateral progress made.

However, dialogue will not deliver results unless it also includes substantial content.

Therefore, I am sure developing countries around the world followed the launch of the EU communication with interest.

Missing elements

The disappointment must have been substantial.

Two of the key priorities for those countries already affected by climate change, are loss and damage, and climate finance.

The communication did not deliver any real clarity about the EU plans or positions about climate finance; moreover, loss and damage was not even mentioned.

The communication includes a proposed “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC), which is a description of the country contributions to the forthcoming global climate agreement.

The EU INDC is, as already declared prior to the communication, only covering mitigation.

The EU will reduce emissions with at least 40% in 2030. However, countries should also describe how their contributions can be seen as fair and ambitious.

The draft INDC does include a headline about fairness, but only states that the EU contribution is fair from an EU view, and nothing about fairness in relation to other countries.

Fairness is a fundamental principle for international diplomacy. Any government finding that it is not treated fair, will react and oppose.

Why does EU think that their contribution should be considered fair compared to other countries?

Because it reflects the historic responsibility of the member states? Because it reflects the capacity to take action?

What is ambition?

The truth is probably that EU considers their proposed contributions to be more ambitious than other countries, thus being more than fair.

However, the problem is that science still points at a huge gap between the amount of planned mitigation targets, and the estimated needs for emission reduction.

Ambitions should thus not be valued based on what other countries do, but based on what is needed to ensure a sustainable future.

It would have been helpful if the EU contribution contained a clear argument for the level of ambition and its fairness.

Then other countries as well as civil society could evaluate the EU proposal based on the same arguments as EU.

It would also have been a strong signal to other parties that they should argue for their INDCs, based on principles of equity and fairness.

The EU communication will be considered by developing countries when they meet with EU climate diplomats in the coming months.

They will probably note the missing elements, and ask for further information about the EU ambition.

The EU likes to be seen as a climate leader. But to make that a reality officials need to grasp all parts of the debate, and that means acknowledging loss and damage, finance and equity.

Mattias Soderbergh is chair of the ACT alliance climate change advisory group. Follow him on twitter @Mattias_S

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