Once climate central, EU now on outside looking in

Monday, December 21, 2009 | 4:39 p.m. CST; updated 5:21 p.m. CST, Monday, December 21, 2009

LONDON — It's a climate deal no one loves, especially in Europe. The continent that used to take the lead in advocating climate action is now leading those grousing about what's been done.

And it's not just the results from last week's climate talks in Copenhagen that upset politicians and business leaders in Europe, but the very process by which nations reached the agreed Climate Accord.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen was shoved aside as president of the conference in favor of someone from the Caribbean — Philip Weech of the Bahamas' environment commission. When an 11th-hour deal was finally hammered out, the only leaders in the room were from Africa, North America, South America and Asia.

Europe, despite bringing the most ambitious pledges to the conference, was stuck on the outside. In the end, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said "I can't hide my disappointment" with the results, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had "mixed feelings."

It was a reaction much muted from the enthusiasm expressed by European leaders going into the talks two weeks earlier. That unhappiness extends to Europe's business community as well, now worried it will be at a competitive disadvantage in fulfilling Europe's ambitious pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while the rest of the world carries on as usual after the failure to agree on international emissions cuts.

"They needed the United States and developing countries to commit to binding reductions" — which the United States couldn't do without U.S. Congress acting first, and then developing countries wouldn't do without the U.S. acting first, said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund in the U.S.

European politicians blame China and other developing countries for cutting the heart out of the agreement, with Britain accusing Beijing of vetoing a deal for mandatory emission cuts and an EU official complaining that some countries held the entire conference hostage.

"Never again should we face the deadlock that threatened to pull down those talks," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday. "Never again should we let a global deal to move towards a greener future be held to ransom by only a handful of countries."

"The vast majority of countries, developed and developing," supported binding cuts in emissions, British climate change minister Ed Miliband wrote in The Guardian newspaper, but "some leading developing countries currently refuse to countenance this."

"We did not get an agreement on 50 percent reductions in global emissions by 2050 or on 80 percent reductions by developed countries. Both were vetoed by China, despite the support of a coalition of developed and the vast majority of developing countries," Miliband wrote.

China saw it differently.

"China has played an important and constructive role in pushing the Copenhagen climate talks to earn the current results and demonstrated its utmost sincerity and made its best effort," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Monday. Wen told Xinhua news agency in an interview that the conference had resulted in an accord that makes clear the respective obligations of and actions to be taken by developed and developing countries according to the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."

"These are hard-won results made through joint efforts of all parties, which are widely recognized and should be cherished," he said.

A senior EU official said the agreement fell short of what nations had worked for, and described the U.N. conference process as "appalling." Nevertheless, he said, the EU would continue to fight for climate change.

Europe proclaimed its will and readiness to lead the fight against global warming in March 2007, pledging then to the 27-nation bloc's emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 or even 30 percent if others — notably the United States — followed suit.

Even with the flimsy final deal, the EU has said it will stick by this pledge and urges others to catch up.

But Europe didn't get to play the role it wanted to play, said China studies professor Jorgen Delman at Copenhagen University. "It was clear that the U.S. and China would be dominant. The European Union as a bloc was not in a position to be a dominant player."

Much of the problem for Europe was that it offered too much, too soon in negotiations and was essentially taken for granted, experts said.

On top of that, when it comes to emissions, all of Europe combined isn't near as a big a player as the United States or China. Europe's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, Germany, still releases less than India, Russia and Japan.

"Europe could shut down and it really wouldn't matter" in terms of the types of significant emission cuts needed to have an effect, said John Christensen, head of U.N. Environment Program's center for energy, climate and sustainable development, based in Denmark.

Another problem was that Denmark's leaders made "various mistakes" early on in the bureaucratic process that slowed things down and annoyed some African nations, Christensen said. That led to Rasmussen stepping down.

European companies said they were "disappointed by the limited outcome" of the climate talks that did nothing to demand that other regions match Europe's rules for punishing polluters — a fact they fear will lead to heavy energy users, such as steel and chemical companies, quitting the bloc.

"The Copenhagen Accord has not brightened the prospect for a global level-playing field in the future," BusinessEurope, representing some 20 million companies, said in a statement. "On the contrary, European companies have to pay for their emissions under the EU Emission Trading Scheme and are as exposed to carbon leakage as they were before Copenhagen."

The companies also said they "strongly regret" that the United States, China and others "only repeated their limited mitigation commitments."

They called for swift movement toward a legally binding agreement "because companies need predictability to develop the new green solutions on which a future low-carbon economy will depend."

Europe's steel industry federation Eurofer demanded that the EU should avoid increasing its emissions reduction target to 30 percent from 1990 levels until industries in other parts of the world are forced to make similar cuts.

"The EU must maintain the measures foreseen to protect the competitiveness of European industry," it said.


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