May 01 2004
The Geopolitics of Climate Change
By John Ashton and Tom Burke
Article Published in
Email this Article
Article hits (7315)
The EU has a crucial role to play in weaving climate into the fabric of its foreign policy. It has leaders who recognise the unique scale of the problem and have invested their own political capital in it. It has an array of policy and engagement tools that it can bring to bear. The notion of a Common Foreign and Security Policy makes no sense unless it includes a clear strategy on climate as a foreign and security policy issue.
One test of this will be the transatlantic relationship. The transatlantic climate disagreement is often presented as being about Kyoto. This is wrong and dangerous in equal measure. It leads to the temptation to explore alternatives.
The real root of the disagreement is that the EU accepts the need for carbon constraints and the US Administration does not. So the only alternative to Kyoto that is acceptable to current US policymakers is one that denatures the already very weak carbon constraint that Kyoto embodies to such an extent that the EU could never accept it.
The most effective instrument of EU climate diplomacy with the US will be performance. We must make climate action work: demonstrate that in pursuing it we make our own economy more dynamic, that the costs are smaller and the benefits greater than is alleged by the US. We must carry out our own commitments irrespective of the actions of others to show that we are investing in an international framework for the longer term building on Kyoto, and that our markets will reward those who wish to play by the same rules.
But there is a much more operational priority for EU climate diplomacy in coming months. This concerns Russia. Russia has not yet decided about Kyoto. In the end, one man – President Putin - will decide the fate of a treaty that affects the interests of the more than 6 billion people with a stake in the global response to climate change. That response can only move to the next stage if and when the uncertainty over Kyoto is resolved.
Too many people are already assuming that this will not happen. If the EU simply sits back and lets events take their course they may well be right.
But the EU and its member states do not need to do that. They have dealings with Russia, and therefore potential leverage, across a wide range of issues that bear directly on the Kyoto decision. The EU has a high level energy dialogue with Russia. It is negotiating with Russia over the terms of its accession the WTO, which includes energy pricing. Its companies are investing heavily in modernising the Russian energy economy and increasing its already high degree interdependence with that of the EU. Their commercial expectations, and thus their investment decisions, are sensitive to the political context within which they take place.
We need to look across the spectrum at these interactions, and construct a proposition to the Russians that gives them a strong incentive to ratify. This should be in the form not of penalties, threats or lectures, but an invitation to design jointly with us an energy framework suitable for European and Russian needs in the twenty first century. And we need a grown up political strategy, starting perhaps with the EU/Russia Summit, for putting this proposition to the Russians in the right way and at the right time.
Climate change is not just another environmental issue to be dealt with when time and resources permit. A stable climate, like national security, is a public good without which economic prosperity and personal fulfillment are impossible. It is a prime duty of governments to secure such goods for their citizens. The current level of investment of political will and financial resources addresses climate change as an environmental rather than as a national security issue. Without a fundamental change in this mind-set governments will remain unable to discharge their duty to their citizens.