Where's the EU? Bloc takes passive role in Cancun summit
By Chris Cermak Dec 10, 2010, 1:05 GMT
Cancun, Mexico - The European Union is usually known for shouting from the rooftops, warning of the dangers of global warming, which is why climate activists say they are surprised the bloc's delegation has been rather quiet at this week's UN summit.
Perhaps Europe's new gun-shy attitude can be blamed on last December's Copenhagen summit, where much of the EU felt marginalized as US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met privately to cobble together the Copenhagen Accord.
Keith Allott, head of the WWF environmental group in Britain, said the EU 'got pretty badly bruised' in Copenhagen: 'It's spent quite a lot of time since Copenhagen licking its wounds.'
That bruising, coupled with some internal divisions over whether the EU should step up its domestic actions to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, has led to a somewhat quieter message at these UN talks in Cancun, Mexico.
The EU has been sharply divided over whether to boost its 2020 target for cutting greenhouse emissions from 20 per cent to 30 per cent below 1990 levels. The offer was first made in 2009 ahead of Copenhagen, conditioned on other countries stepping up their own emissions curbs.
With leaders in Copenhagen failing to agree a new global climate treaty, and the possibility not even on the table in Cancun, the EU's 27 members are divided over whether to move to 30 per cent regardless.
With the EU's internal position somewhat in flux, Jennifer Morgan of the US-based World Resources Institute suggested EU officials in Cancun might be afraid of crossing 'red lines' set up by their heads of state.
'They do seem to be rather passive here,' Morgan told dpa.
The EU has also only offered lukewarm support for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the first legally-binding treaty that curbed industrial country emissions. Japan, Russia and Canada oppose extending Kyoto beyond 2012, insisting on a new treaty that includes the US, which never ratified Kyoto, and China.
Connie Hedegaard, the EU's climate commissioner, points out that Kyoto would cover only one-seventh of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions if Japan, Russia and Canada exit the treaty.
Developing powers are demanding an extension of Kyoto, and the dispute has threatened to derail the entire Cancun summit. Climate activists complain the EU should be singing the praises of Kyoto much louder than it is.
Responding to some of the criticism, Hedegaard in a statement Thursday insisted it would be 'absurd and unfair' to accuse the EU of 'killing the Kyoto Protocol.'
'The EU has consistently fought to keep it alive and still does. At the same time we work to ensure that the US and the large emerging economies take on binding commitments as they represent a very substantial part of the global emissions,' she said.
The EU's more passive role at this conference is a shame, say activists, because the EU has historically been one of the leaders in climate negotiations. As a developed country bloc that has done the most historically to tackle its own emissions, it also has credibility with developing countries.
Sasha Mueller-Kraenner, a Germany-based expert for the Nature Conservancy, told dpa that the EU could play a key role in the 'moderate centre' with developing powers like India, rallying countries around a compromise between the more extreme positions of the US and China.
Environment ministers in Cancun have been deadlocked in disputes between rich and poor countries over which governments should be required to cut their emissions, and by how much. The row has put a deal by the Friday night deadline in doubt.
'EU leadership is absolutely important in this,' Jeremy Hobbs, president of Oxfam International, told reporters Thursday. 'Any real progress that's been made on climate has always involved real leadership from the European Union.'