The Case for EU Leadership on Global Climate Change (By Eva Yu)

Following the unsuccessful UN negotiations at COP15 in 2009, Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) met with the US to draft an agreement to address climate change. These states signed a non-binding arrangement to keep global warming to two degrees but neglected to set targets for cuts in carbon emissions. The multilateral backroom deal incensed other nations who were making efforts to lower emissions and employ cleaner technology.In the last few years, the EU has consistently made greater progress in lowering emissions and converting to renewable energy in comparison to other nations. In order to prevent global environmental catastrophes, the EU must not only continue on its current path but also take the lead in negotiations and ensure that concrete emission goals are set for all nations. This includes expanding its current model of carbon trading to include other countries who are committed to lowering their emissions; and urge all states to intensify research and development efforts to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and transition the world to cleaner renewable energy.

Photo licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

As the global community prepares for Rio+20 this summer, the EU needs to renew and strengthen its alliances to ensure that the next round of negotiations result in meaningful agreements with specific targets for all UN members. The EU nations must stand firm behind commitments made at Kyoto and urge developed nations such as the US and Canada to honor the targets established. Industrialized nations that have contributed significantly to global pollution have a duty to shoulder the responsibility of leading the world in reducing emissions. At the same time, emerging economies must also accept that changes are needed to their current path of development in order to safeguard the wellbeing of the planet.

Given the deadlines of the Kyoto Protocol, it would be difficult for some developed nations to meet their original targets. In return for their commitment to the emission goals, new deadlines can be negotiated. Based on past experience with its domestic implementations, the EU can work with these nations to establish attainable milestones for reduction. To assist nations in creating realistic strategies (i.e. policies targeting households and industries) and implement the necessary infrastructure changes, the EU can offer both technical expertise and customized solutions.Despite the current impasse on universally binding emission targets, all countries must make sacrifices to save the climate and continue to meet the existing goals. Using the EU’s domestic model of carbon trading,  the Union can expand membership to non-EU states and ensure that all members meet established targets within the enlarged group. The current success of EU nations in reaching their own reduction targets has prompted studies to ascertain the feasibility of more ambitious reductions. If it is possible to increase their own reduction goals, the EU can generate sufficient credits that will attract nations who are uncertain of their ability to meet their targets to participate in the Carbon Trading Program so they may access the credits as needed. With more confidence in their ability to meet the targets, more nations will then be willing to sign-off on binding targets.

Electric vehicles powered by renewable energy kick off the Zero Emissions race in Geneva, Switzerland, August 2010. (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

With its expansive network of partners, the EU can actively seek-out inventions and facilitate implementation either within the Union or in other states. Brazil’s usage of flexible fuel may be a practical solution for many nations who wish to diminish dependence on oil. Technologies such as the electric car network being established in Israel can benefit geographically small or island states. China, with its massive appetite for energy, is investing heavily in renewable research. The EU, with its successful track record in this industry, can partner with China and work together to develop and implement ground-breaking technology in this area.

The EU must take the lead in addressing climate change given the current vacuum in leadership. Global binding targets are achievable if UN members work together in cooperative programs. Best practices and new technologies must be surfaced and shared to move all nations closer to their emission goals and away from fossil fuel dependency. Should the world not agree to strict emission standards and force reluctant nations to comply with the targets now, future cost of addressing environmental disasters could be astronomical.

Eva Yu is a 2012 graduate of Harvard Kennedy School.

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