Climate change: The Debate is going to get hotter within the EU

The Earth Times This summer may be hot, but the climate in Europe and the political debate on what to do about it are likely to get even hotter, the European Union’s top climate official said in an exclusive interview with the German Press Agency dpa.

Records have tumbled over the last three months as droughts and floods have struck Europe. Simultaneously, the EU is gearing up for debate on how to tackle climate change at home and in global talks. “What we are experiencing right now, with extreme temperatures and violent precipitation, is exactly what had been forecast for the European area … Scientists tell us, ‘This is only the beginning: we haven’t seen anything yet,'” EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.

Climate change dropped down the EU agenda this year as politicians dealt with Greece’s financial crash and the public reacted to the disappointing outcome of climate talks in Copenhagen in December.

This summer could change that trend, as weather extremes spark a new interest in the climate. “I would normally have said that one summer does not make a whole climate policy, but I must also admit that when we had a cold winter last winter, many people looked out of the window and said, ‘Oh, it’s cold outside, maybe there is no global warming,” Hedegaard said.

While a single summer cannot be used as evidence for such a long-term phenomenon as climate change, “it may mean something to people, because it’s difficult for citizens to relate to climate periods of 30-50 years,” she said. Any interest will take on political weight this autumn as the EU launches three key debates on climate policy. First is the question of greenhouse gases. The bloc is committed to cutting its emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, or 30 per cent if other developed states make “comparable” cuts. EU states decided after Copenhagen that other world powers were not doing enough to trigger the 30-per-cent cut. But the environment ministers of Britain, France and Germany last week called on the EU to consider making the move to keep its economic initiative.

States such as Poland and Italy argue that that would cost too much. But Hedegaard urged members to consider the cost of inaction, saying, “Maybe it’s not only that you risk losing jobs because you are ambitious: maybe you also risk losing jobs if you stand still.” Simultaneously, EU member states will grapple with the question of how to push for action at United Nations climate talks in Cancun, Mexico in November.

There, too, Hedegaard looks likely to walk into a fight as she pushes member states to leave negotiators room to manoeuvre. Usually, EU states insist on drawing up every detail of their negotiating positions in advance, to make sure that negotiators do not approve deals which voters would subsequently reject. But that means that, by the time the talks start, “our red lines have already been published”, Hedegaard said, adding that she wants to “build in a bit more flexibility” for Cancun.

That is explosive, as it implies allowing negotiators to take decisions which have not been pre-approved in detail by EU states. But the greatest controversy is likely to surface next year, as the EU begins to draw up its trillion-dollar budget for the period from 2014 to 2020.EU budget negotiations are complex even when the basic rules have already been agreed. But Hedegaard said the bloc should consider bringing in new rules to reward countries with climate-friendly policies – a call likely to trigger still more political heat.

The budget talks “might be one area where we could invent systems that, more than using sticks, actually use carrots and reward those using new things, new technologies, being the front-runners … This is a sensitive and difficult debate, but that’s the kind of debate that we need to have,” she said. August is traditionally the EU’s summer break. But in September, the debate will start again as the countdown to Cancun begins. Expect a hot autumn.

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