The Climate Challenge now offers the EU a Global Role

Europe’s World website. With so much of the climate change agenda linked to development aid priorities, Steen Gade, chair of the Danish Folketing’s environment committee, sets out his vision of an EU action plan, and notably emphasises the Africa-EU cooperation through the Partnership on Climate Change of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy.

Last December’s COP 15 climate change summit in Copenhagen fell far short of being the “Hopenhagen” conference so many had wished for. It didn’t agree on much more than continuing the discussions until Mexico this December. The meeting took note, and no more than that, of the “accord” in which almost all the 115 countries present recognised the need to limit temperature rises to 2°c.

In that sense, Copenhagen was a failure, yet it also clarified three challenges to be met by the end of this year. The first is, and most promising, is to fulfil the promises on financing. The second is to try in Mexico to develop the accord into a binding global UN-agreement. The third is to continue the negotiations until Mexico on all the more specific areas – above all reduction targets, commitments and actions – without creating any doubts about the EU’s own willingness to continue along the Kyoto track.

It is very much to be hoped that the EU will take the lead in all three of these processes. That would mean that making new money available to developing countries has to begin right now; the short-term finance offer from the EU of €2.4bn a year from now until 2012 will have to be delivered extremely quickly. One of the most effective ways would be through forest conservation schemes like the Amazonas fund. If the EU is to be trusted in the developing world, it has to commit additional spending to that already earmarked for the 2015 millennium development goals (MDGs), not least because we already know that the mid-term goal of 0.56 % of GNP by 2010 has not yet been reached. It will be a major challenge for EU countries as a whole to reach the MDG target of 0.7% of their GNP by 2015 while at the same time giving additional climate change funding. But that is what we in the EU have promised, and the short-term delivery of climate change help must begin before the summer of this year. At the same time, the EU has to reach a decision on long-term financing, following the European Commission’s estimate that the world’s developing countries will need €100bn a year by 2020. It’s going to be up to the EU to give clear guarantees that it will contribute its fair share.

If the Copenhagen accord is to be transformed into a binding UN decision, the EU will have to work hard to dispel all the mistrust among developing countries about its own willingness to sign up to steep reductions like reducing CO2 emissions by 30% by 2020 rather than by 20 %. This level of EU commitment is going to be needed before the mid-year meeting in Bonn, if the EU wants to take the lead on the global scene. Copenhagen’s legacy at present is a lot of mistrust.

This is what is needed if the EU is to be in a position to play a leading role in the years ahead. But these initiatives are no more than a pre-condition for the even more concentrated, clever and effective EU climate change initiatives that will be needed in relation to developing countries. The key word here is going to be equality, in line with both the spirit and the wording of the 2007 Lisbon strategic partnership between Africa and the EU. It is also going to be important to recognise that developing countries are often in very different situations, so the concrete policies to be thrashed out need to take into account the differences that exist between the LDCs and BRIC countries like China, India and Brazil. But of course what unites these different groups is that real partnerships with the EU are in all these cases the way forward.

Helping developing countries adapt to a low carbon economy is closely linked to the same agenda as better development aid. This means partnerships for creating national plans that have clear climate goals, greater coordination between aid donors, more transparency and the involvement of civil society, businesses and national parliaments. On top of all this, the climate agenda demands much more regional cooperation on development aid than we have seen in the past. The climate agenda offers us a chance to breathe new life into the relationship between donor and developing countries.

This whole process of adaptation is crucial for developing countries, and it is up to the EU member states to emphasise the consequences of climate change. This includes detailed physical information about climate change and about the vulnerability both of nature and of human kind. It includes imparting knowledge about infrastructures like water systems, crops and health. Many of the problems that these countries are already dealing with will worsen, with new problems being added to them. Adaptation therefore has to be integrated into all existing development plans and initiatives. This is where the EU can really make a difference by making climate change an integral part of its development aid and its donor coordination efforts.

The second major challenge to be met is finding ways the EU can create low carbon development projects, especially those that focus on energy. We know that more than a billion and a half people are still without power, and therefore have no real prospect of development. The EU already has a very good platform on linking energy to its development aid thanks to the Lisbon partnership with Africa. This now needs to be further developed instead of inventing any new instruments. Renewable energy must also be strengthened, with a strong focus on solar and wind. The European Development Bank needs to make more long-term financing available to the energy facility, as well as to infrastructure. Traditional thinking has limited infrastructure projects on energy to hydro-projects and coal or oil based plants, but wind farms and solar plants should not only be for rich countries. There are considerable technology transfer and long-term employment gains to be made in solar and wind. Cooperation between the EU and the African Union can, if designed the right way, be the most effective way to stimulate technology transfers. In Mali I have seen for myself the way a solar driven water pump has transformed the lives of the women and how solar power has extended school hours into the evenings and given villages a refrigerator to store medicine for the sick.

The new climate-related development agenda must aim at renewable energy both in de-centralised rural environments and in integrated regional and centralised versions. What we in Europe need to do is to use our own experience of renewables and of energy efficiency to shape a new partnership with developing countries. That means scientific and educational cooperation, the creation of networks between, for example, electricity companies and the broad involvement of private sector companies to enable them to develop new business opportunities, especially in energy efficiency and renewables.

Climate change has been called the biggest challenge that will face the next generation and for Europe it is a chance to play a major role on the global scene in this fast-changing world. We Europeans will not get too many such chances in the coming years, and my earnest hope is that we will understand all its possibilities and dare to take the lead.

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