Durban: Is unanimity necessary?

The annual COP17 climate change conference in Durban has begun. Between 28 November and 9 December, representatives from governments across the world, international organisations and civil society will gather together in Durban to debate and advance the Kyoto Protocol, the Bali Action Plan and the Cancun Agreements.

The EU is among one of the most developed parties taking part, and a couple of weeks ago (16th November), MEPs sent a clear message to other institutions stating that the EU ‘needs to finally commit to continuing with the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012.’ This is an important move from the European Parliament in times of economic struggle and is to be applauded. It illustrates the importance of climate change to the European Parliament and will inform the way in which the European Union is represented at Durban. It is imperative that there are legally binding targets, guaranteed within Kyoto, as this leaves limited wriggle room for countries more intent on having the appearance of being green (greenwashing).

MEP Jo Lienen, chairman of the European Parliament’s environment committee, has stressed that ‘lessons have been learned’ from the 2009 Copenhagen summit as regards to aiming to get the USA on board. He suggested that the EU must look ‘not only across the Atlantic but towards the Pacific as well.’ Reuters reports that China has recently invested in green technology due to threats from climate change – this should make it a more likely partner than theUSA in ratifying a second Kyoto Protocol.

However, there is not complete agreement within the EU. Predictably, Britain is one of the countries that is uncertain about the extension of Kyoto. It has been suggested by Gregory Barker, Britain’s Minister of State for Climate Change, that while leadership is necessary, if it is not taken up by other members of the UN, there is little point in it. This is most likely to have been directed at China and the USA. As President Obama is facing a presidential election battle next year, Durban is not well timed to attract his attention. The EU’s Climate Action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, has stress that she is aware of ‘the political situation in Washington’, however she also urged for political leadership from the States, stating that ‘if you want a leadership position in the world then you also have to deliver on this.’

The economic crisis is also looming large in the minds of many EU countries, with recent leadership changes in Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugaland Ireland. This does not paint a favourable picture for the fast-start finance funds, which were outlined by the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, and were intended ‘to help countries adapt to the impact of climate change and to pursue actions that put them on a low-carbon development pathway.’ The funds come from developed countries, such as those in the EU – hence the likelihood that they will not continue as previously expected.

However, this is an opportunity for the EU to improve its international standing and to lay the foundations of a future deal, by working with China in order to encourage the USA to come on board. The economic crisis may well be touted as a reason for EU countries not to commit to such grand ideas as signing a second Kyoto commitment period, however this has been rejected by the Socialists and Democrats, and the European People’s Party: green, sustainable, renewable industries are a way of increasing employment rates whilst creating a viable future for those seeking employment. Surely the chance to increase these opportunities, not to mention the EU’s bargaining power and enlightened self-interest, is not something that can easily be rejected?

About Isabel Skrine

Isabel started as a Programme Assistant on Sustainable Energy Security for the Quaker Council for European Affairs in October 2011.
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