The Emissions Trading Scheme’s troubles could make it difficult for the EU to give a lead in international climate change talks
This week, diplomats are meeting in Bonn for talks on developing a globally binding climate deal that is supposed to be agreed by the end of 2015 and in force by 2020.
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Leaders from around the world signed up to this timeline in Durban in 2011, thanks in part to the hard-nosed leadership of the EU, which formed an alliance with countries vulnerable to climate change to force the countries responsible for big emissions – the United States, India and China – to agree to a timeline. But this week there is far less certainty about the EU’s ability to exercise such leadership in global talks.
The troubles with the ETS will be hanging over the heads of the EU’s negotiators in Bonn. While there is little doubt that the EU can meet its 2020 UN commitments with or without a functioning ETS, emissions reductions beyond this date now seem in doubt. How can the EU meet long-term objectives for reducing emissions if its main vehicle for getting there is in disarray? And why should other countries listen to the EU if it cannot put its own climate house in order?
Setting an ambitious emissions reduction target for 2030 would signal to global partners that despite the ETS’s difficulties, the EU still has firm plans to reduce emissions. But agreeing such a target within the Council of Ministers will be difficult – Poland is adamant that no 2030 figure should be set until after a global climate deal is reached.
“I strongly believe we shouldn’t go into international negotiations, starting hopefully next year, with our hands tied,” said Marcin Karolec, Poland’s environment minister, after a discussion on possible 2030 targets last week. “Publishing our negotiating position is not the way to get good terms.”
The Commission plans to put forward a 2030 emissions reduction target proposal by the end of this year, possibly just before the international climate summit takes place in Warsaw. But if Poland indicates that it would not accept such a target, the EU’s partners may not take the Comm-ission’s draft very seriously. If the EU comes to Warsaw with a broken ETS and an insubstantial 2030 offer, it is doubtful that European negotiators will be in a position to exercise leadership in the talks.
“Those who say we could wait to define Europe’s targets until after an international deal is done have not understood the message that the EU must get its act together to have the maximum power to influence the international climate talks,” said Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, after last week’s meeting of environment ministers.
With no ETS solution in sight, the question of whether or not to set targets for 2030 has taken on extra significance.