EU "in disarray" over global climate talks

Think tank calls for "coordinated effort behind clear objectives" avoid further setback

The EU's performance in international climate change negotiations has been sharply criticised by an environmental think tank, in a paper examining prospects for a major round of talks on implementing the UN Kyoto protocol due in November. The London-based Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) warns that the 6th conference of parties (COP-6) to the UN climate change convention risks being a "further setback" unless the EU can develop a clear and robust negotiating position.

Though it has repeatedly described itself as the world's most progressive force on climate change issues, the EU has failed to deliver this promise in practice, the IEEP says. Diverging views between member states and the complexities involved in policy making at EU level mean that the EU "consistently negotiates as less than the sum of its parts," it claims.

This is especially true compared with the USA, the EU's main industrialised-country protagonist in climate negotiations, according to the IEEP. The USA "sets the agenda while the EU...comes across as reactive, weak and fragmented," it claims. Even worse, the paper says, the EU has managed to appear "strikingly uncoordinated" even in comparison with the much larger and more diverse G77 group of over 130 developing countries.

The issue of restricting use of the Kyoto protocol's three "flexible mechanisms" illustrates these problems, the IEEP says. The EU had to undertake protracted negotiations in 1999 to agree a position (ENDS Daily 10 May 1999), which was quickly attacked for failing to live up to earlier commitment to a 50% "concrete ceiling" (ENDS Daily 7 June 1999). The EU's arguments for uniform obligations have also been undermined by its internal "bubble" system of different commitments between member states, the IEEP says.

The EU now has little chance of rescuing its position and exerting a leadership position at COP-6, at least on flexible mechanisms, the IEEP concludes. It urges European governments to put more emphasis on agenda setting and to make a major effort to pool its "formidable resources" in a "coordinated effort behind clear objectives". If it succeeds in this, "and if the progressive views within the EU prevail," then COP-6 could yet be a landmark for EU environmental diplomacy," the paper concludes.

Follow Up:
IEEP, tel: +44 20 77 99 22 44. "The EU in the international climate negotiations: lost and defeated?" can be ordered by e-mail from jw@ieeplondon.org.uk

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