The next climate summit in Durban is of crucial importance as the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. The negotiators must come up with an agreement that will replace the existing one and this requires a bold and assertive political leadership which only the European Union can provide.
The October 11th meeting of the Council of Environment Ministers provides us with some insight about the possible EU stand at Durban. The meeting concluded that the EU should support the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol as the main framework for international climate negotiations; it also emphasized that the developed countries to reduce their carbon emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent and developing countries should also cut their emissions from the current rate.
However, there is nothing new about these proposals. The Union has been singing the same song in every climate summit, and they have not been able to provide any significant breakthrough in climate negotiations. Therefore, the Union must focus on other ideas and approaches that can bolster its image of a leader in climate regimes.
Most of the developing countries also view the Kyoto protocol with suspicion. Developing countries like China and India will want a second commitment period under the existing protocol, and expect the EU to lead the way in providing financial aid and technology for them in their efforts to mitigate the harmful impacts of climate change. Reeling under the impact of financial crises, nations outside and within the EU are not very keen on ‘luxury' issues like climate change which, in their opinion, might further hamper their economic growth. The Obama administration in the US provides little scope for fruitful climate solutions and remains unenthusiastic on Kyoto. Such circumstances provide an opportunity for the Union to come up with an action oriented approach that includes norms and standards for other nations to follow.
Instead of repeatedly talking of increasing emissions control and urging others also to do so, it must emphasize how to achieve those targets and in the process must explain the practical steps its members have taken to achieve targets. This will greatly help other nations to chart out their own action plan to meet their Kyoto requirements. The EU should also focus on strengthening its Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), which has not been exploited to its full potential. It must be made more effective by fixing the cap for the participating countries. In addition, if the developing countries’ faith in Kyoto is to be restored, there is a need to formulate an accountable mechanism for the transfer of funds and technology. In the same way, talks about implementation of the REDD scheme (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which were held up in the Cancun summit, must be given renewed importance.
Most importantly, the Union must shows it takes concrete action on climate talks seriously by emphasizing the fact that long term and realistic climate policies can actually promote economic growth globally by creating green jobs, increasing interdependence and promoting energy security rather than hampering economic development. In the past, the Union has shown instrumental and directional leadership in the climate regime. Now a post-Kyoto legal framework is urgently needed, and despite its internal problems, the Union must lead the way again.
Vijeta Rattani is a Ph.D. scholar at the Centre for European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.