Although the Paris Agreement was a diplomatic success for the European Union, the EU’s own climate policy is looking increasingly unambitious, write Susanne Dröge and Oliver Geden of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin. According to the authors this is the result of internal differences which are unlikely to be resolved soon. They suggest that if the EU wants to maintain its international leadership in the fight against climate change, there is a way out: it could expand and strengthen climate cooperation with the developing countries.
After the euphoria of the Paris climate summit, the EU is now confronted with the realities of a long uphill battle to maintain its climate policy leadership. On the international level, the EU’s next steps will be followed very closely to see whether the EU is capable of working out climate policy compromises internally.
First of all, the EU and its 28 Member States need to ratify the Paris Agreement. Because of internal divisions, this is not likely to happen soon. Since the requirements for the Agreement to enter into force are not particularly high (55% of signatories representing at least 55% of emissions must ratify), they can be met without the EU. Yet this would be detrimental to the EU’s credibility on climate policy—especially from the standpoint of countries that are partners to the “high ambition coalition” that helped make COP21 a success, and those that are most severely affected by climate change.
In the likely case that the Paris Agreement enters into force prior to EU ratification, the EU will not be allowed to participate in initial decision-making over the many rules and procedures needed for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This will add to the overall challenge that faces the EU as it attempts to maintain its position as a leader in global climate policy.
At present, the Commission is attempting to keep debate from even starting over strengthening the 40 percent target for 2030
Secondly, the EU will need to translate its own previously agreed energy and climate headline targets into binding legislation. Up to now, the EU climate target of reducing emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) adopted by the 28 heads of state and government in October 2014 has only been a statement of intention.
In order to prevent the substantial differences between EU Member States from becoming an explosive issue, the EU Commission came to an agreement with Member States to deliberately refrain from the introduction of particularly controversial legislative procedures in the run-up to COP21. These issues will now have to be attended to. Some of them are quite complex.
The amendment of the directive for the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) that will regulate the power sector, manufacturing and energy-intensive industry had already been largely pre-structured by the European Council and is currently under discussion in the committees of the European Parliament. However, the creation of new national emissions reduction targets for those sectors that are not covered by the emissions trading system (transport, heating, services) has been postponed. As soon as the Commission publishes its proposal on this issue (Effort Sharing Decision, expected before the summer break in 2016), deep-seated and in part also ideologically driven conflicts between Member States are highly likely. Poland’s new government will almost certainly stand at the center of these disputes.
In addition, to fulfill its international obligations, the EU will for the first time have to define a legal instrument to calculate land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) as part of the EU’s overall emissions reduction target. This could facilitate negotiations within Europe, but it also entails the risk of diluting the EU climate target. In addition, further potentially conflict-provoking legislative procedures are likely to be opened in 2016. These include the amendment of the renewable energy directive as well as a mechanism designed to provide “European Energy Governance.” Also expected in the coming year is an equally controversially proposal for a guideline to tighten the CO2 emissions limit for passenger cars from 2021 on.
And that is not all: as many people have pointed out, the 2030 targets itself are far from ambitious. While leaving them unchanged would not be in conflict with the text of the Paris Agreement, this would certainly contradict its spirit. International observers would see this as an indication that the EU is abdicating its leadership role. Moreover, it would be incompatible with the particular responsibility that industrialized countries took upon themselves in Paris for climate protection.
However, the question of whether the EU will intensify its mitigation efforts will probably be of low priority to the Juncker Commission, which remains in office through 2019. Much more prominent issues will include differences within the EU over refugee policy, a possible Brexit, and the still-smoldering Eurozone crisis.
For the first time since the founding of the UNFCCC, this places all of the signatory states in a position to participate in global climate policy based on their own national interests
At present, the Commission is attempting to keep debate from even starting over strengthening the 40 percent target for 2030. It came as some surprise that the Commission’s first position paper on the subject advocated only a modified climate roadmap for 2050 and suggested adopting new EU climate targets solely for the post-2030 period. Since the issue of a new 2030 emissions reduction target would cause the profound differences between Northwest and Central European Member States to flare up again, it is unlikely that the European Council, which is responsible for setting EU climate objectives, will treat this question as a priority in the near future—especially since its decisions are by consensus.
All this puts the EU’s climate leadership policy under strong pressure. But there may be a way out of this predicament. The Europeans could still meet the expectations resulting from the Paris Agreement in two key ways: by increasing climate financing commitments and by working to create and expand cooperation projects with developing countries. In the context of the current refugee crisis, it will be easier to mobilize support to countries where climate change impacts could exacerbate supply risks and threaten to increase instability.
The Paris Agreement definitely encourages such a policy. To see how this could work, it is important to understand some of the key mechanisms behind the Agreement.
The Paris Agreement differs fundamentally from the Kyoto Protocol, which still regulates global climate protection under international law up to 2020. Instead of relying on multilaterally negotiated provisions for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the countries under the Paris Agreement have decided to start by developing their own national climate agendas. By establishing transparent rules of process and unified standards and ensuring a mutual exchange of information, they intend to lay the foundation for stronger climate policy cooperation.
Future global climate policy will be based on “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs; prior to the Paris Agreement preceded by “intended” and referred to as INDCs). NDCs may include not only mitigation targets but also information about adaptation needs, and they can also specify political instruments or conditionality, based, for instance, on the provision of financial support. For the first time since the founding of the UNFCCC, this places all of the signatory states in a position to participate in global climate policy based on their own national interests.
The Paris Agreement requires that the industrialized countries specify absolute emissions reduction targets. Developing countries, on the other hand, can set relative targets or pathways
Article 3 of the Paris Agreement stipulates that the contracting parties will be under obligation to determine their NDCs, to submit them on a regular basis, and not to fall below the level of their commitments from the previous period (“progression”). The NDCs are filed in a publicly accessible registry. The reduction targets contained in the NDCs are not part of the agreement and are thus not binding under international law. Rules for streamlining, for unifying processes and standards, and for promoting synchronization of timelines remain to be negotiated in detail.
The Paris Agreement requires that the industrialized countries specify absolute emissions reduction targets in their NDCs. Developing countries, on the other hand, are to increase their mitigation efforts, which can be set as relative targets or as pathways over time. They will receive financial, technical, and practical support. The Agreement contains no explicit provisions for the emerging economies. What it requires of all countries—industrialized, developing, and emerging economies—is that net emissions be reduced to zero by the end of the century.
Note that the Paris Agreement attributes the same importance to adaptation as it does to mitigation. This is the result of longstanding demands raised by the developing countries. The Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAF) created within the UNFCCC context in 2010 will be responsible for ensuring the flow of information and the implementation and communication of the adaptation agenda. The agreement also provides an explicit guarantee that the developing countries will receive support for their efforts.
The catalyst for increased participation in mitigation efforts and the achievement of adaptation targets is set out in Article 9, which deals with climate financing. This area, like the NDCs, will be subject to a regular evaluation known as a “global stocktake”.
The OECD countries are obligated to provide funding, while the developing countries can do so on a voluntary basis. Funds will only be disbursed, however, when the recipient countries can demonstrate that they are implementing their NDCs. Donor countries will be allowed to provide support conditional on the transparency and measurability of the developing countries’ activities.
If the EU can’t have a fully satisfactory climate policy of its own, it can at least redeem itself by helping others with their efforts
So far, climate financing has not been provided in a reliable manner. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been created as the central UN institution for climate finance, but the inflow of funds from industrialized countries in the amount of 100 billion US dollars per year by 2020 is not yet fully guaranteed. Also, the first GCF projects have only recently been approved. Further talks will take place under the Paris Agreement up to 2025 about increasing financial support from the industrialized countries, and exceeding the currently pledged 100 billion US dollars.
The new climate regime thus demands leadership by the industrialized countries. They are called upon to push global climate policy forward by providing support to developing countries in all areas. Herein lies an opportunity for the EU to demonstrate its leadership by expanding its financing of climate initiatives in developing countries. If the EU can’t have a fully satisfactory climate policy of its own, it can at least redeem itself by helping others with their efforts.
This is an abbreviated and edited version of a SWP policy brief published in April 2016. Susanne Dröge is Senior Fellow in the Global Issues Division.Oliver Geden is head of the EU/Europe Division at SWP (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – German Institute for International and Security Affairs), the largest foreign policy think tank in Europe. Republished with permission.