Commentary

Europe’s relationship status: It’s complicated

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We Europeans are often deeply sceptical or some might say ‘humble’ about what our domestic decisions ‘buy’ us internationally. We often fail to understand why European international leadership hasn’t resulted in getting us exactly what we want. Well, as Facebook would say our relationship with the rest of the world is ‘complicated’.

The EU 2030 climate and energy package is a case in point. In New York, many European leaders stood up at the Climate Summit and announced the 40% GHG target. This was mostly met with (stunned) silence from vulnerable and emerging countries alike. Ecofys analysis shows that 40% is barely consistent with a below 2 degree trajectory, and not in line with the Commission’s own climate goals for 2050. Europe was instrumental in forging international consensus on the 2 degree obligation, and its international partners are now witnessing some European Member States single-handedly attempt dismantle it.

In 2015, countries will get together to strike an international climate agreement. As part of this, they’ve agreed to submit their initial offers in the early part of 2015. By chance, Europe is the first to announce its offer, and by default setting the benchmark for others.

In choosing to go for a 40% target, Europe is capping not only its own ambition, but sending a strong signal to others that it’s locking in low ambition. In November, the US and China are likely to discuss the process and possibly the substance of their respective offers at the APEC Summit. If the Climate Summit in New York told us one thing, it’s that the stars are aligning for a global agreement. Not only have we got a US administration committed to both domestic and international action on climate change, but China is proactively tackling carbon emissions through its efforts at reducing air pollution. More ambition is needed, but we’re getting somewhere. And critically, we saw a whole host of developing countries signal serious political intent to decarbonise their economies, at the same time that the New Climate Economy report stated that there is no such thing as business as usual.

Ensuring that 40% isn’t the last word from Europe in the run up to Paris is essential. Inserting those two little words ‘at least’ before the ‘40%’ will give Europe back its skin in the game with the big boys in town. And Europe can move from ‘it’s complicated’ to ‘in a relationship’.

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