Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Will the European Council be decisive? - Financing developing countries climate change needs

The outcome of the EU leaders meeting is critical to success in Copenhagen

Finance for developing countries is seen as the key issue for successful climate change negotiations at COP15 in Copenhagen.

The European Commission has estimated that poorer countries will need finance of the order of 100 billion euros per annum from the developed world by 2020.

However the EU finance ministers (ECOFIN) have been unable to agree an internal finance framework for EU Member States contributions, an issue which has already been deferred from earlier meetings.

Poland is reported to have taken the lead in asserting that Eastern European nations would not support 'unfair' proposals that they should contribute to funding climate change mitigation for developing countries; it should come from richer EU members.

Despite this position Poland and a number of other eastern and central European EU members are high CO2 emitting, coal dependent economies; Poland and the Czech Republic are amongst the top ten CO2 emitters in Europe. Some responsibility for climate change issues seems inescapable for them.

As a result of dissent the issue of climate change finance for developing countries was referred, once more unresolved by the European Finance ministers, for heads of state to discuss in the upcoming meeting of the European Council at the end of October. The text of 29-30 October European Council agenda item on climate change reads as follows

II. Climate change

The European Council will take stock of preparations for the Copenhagen conference on climate change in particular on the basis of the preparatory work conducted by the ECOFIN
and Environment Councils of 20 and 21 October. It will take the appropriate decisions,
including on all aspects of financing, required to ensure a successful outcome in Copenhagen.

'Appropriate decisions .....' Yes, decisions are needed.

A wider perspective

Poland's perception of the relative wealth of eastern European EU nations is entirely regional.In a global context their GDP per capita is too high (and their CO2 emissions too substantial) to be used as an excuse to opt of supporting developing nations vulnerable to climate change.

The World Bank International Comparison Programme looked at relative wealth of all countries in terms of a purchasing power parity GDP/capita index on scale in which the world average is taken as 100. Figure 17.1

Although the world financial hiatus will have altered some of the detail it nevertheless provides an indicator of relative wealth.

Figure17.1 'Relative wealth' of new EU Member States
(ICP GDP/capita ppp index with world average = 100)
(click image to enlarge)

All EU countries, including new member states are above the world average GDP/capita ppp index which is set at 100.

Many developing countries have Indices less than 30% of those of the least wealthy EU nations.

It is hard to see why solidarity among EU members should not prevail in order to help developing nations address their needs in relation to climate change.

Unraveling EU climate change policies

However other aspects of EU policies on climate change have been unraveling as a result of pressure from new EU member states.

Recently Poland and the Czech Republic were successful in persuading the European Court of the First Instance that the European Commission had exceeded its powers when reviewing the countries CO2 emission allowances for 2008-2012 trading period of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS)

This decision places the whole of EU ETS in jeopardy since a planned and progressive scarcity of allowances is necessary for a viable 'carbon market' to function.

Since emissions trading, and eventually a global carbon market, is a major plank in EU policy for reducing CO2 emissions and addressing climate change, further weakening of EU ETS would represent a major setback to the EU position and perhaps require reshaped policies.

While styling itself as a world leader in combating climate change the EU may be revealed as having feet of clay if it lacks internal support for its key climate change policies.

Agreeing a finance package to help developing countries seems to be a prerequisite for EU credibility in Copenhagen and the support of all EU members is needed. Within the EU equity can be served by each country contributing to the finance package according to their means.

It is important that that the leaders of European nations are decisive in the European Council and agree a finance package for developing countries climate change needs.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Climate Change Threats and Public Response

Humans are not well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought

A potential explanation for the muted response of the public to the threats posed by climate change is put forward in an article 'When Our Brains Short-Circuit' by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. The ideas he puts forward amplify those expressed in my post 'A Failure of Public Response to Climate Change'.

Kristof suggests that humans' perceptions of risk, and their response to threats, are not tuned to the gradual development of large scale threats so that dangers such as climate change do not evoke an instinctive reaction of fear or engender action.

Quoting evidence from eminent psychologists Kristof postulates that the human brain still retains programs, laid down early in human evolution, which respond to the types of threat that were extant for most of the millions of years that humans have existed on earth. In hunter gatherer groups threat categories took the form of 'snakes or enemies with clubs'.

Such threats are in nature personal, imminent and require immediate response.

In contrast, the modern dangers embodied in climate change appear diffuse and remote. For many people the threats from climate change do not have locally discoverable, visible effects; knowledge of them originates from distant sources and is couched in scientific rather than everyday language.

Climate change threats are complex, are long term rather than about immediate personal danger, and will probably affect people in remote lands rather than family first,..... so they do not 'activate our warning system', they 'sneak in under the brain’s radar', consequently action seems to be unnecessary.

Hedgehogs, programed to respond to threats by rolling into a ball, are unable to distinguish between the immediate threat from a fox and the danger signaled by the headlights of a distant lorry. Their inbuilt response is inappropriate to modern conditions.

In a similar way, despite acknowledging the scientific evidence, humans may discount or deny the threats of climate change which seem too complex, long term and large to fully comprehend because the ancient programs in their brains for response to threats are social, immediate and local in scale.

Humans are not well prepared to respond to dangers needing forethought.

In my earlier post the concept of 'socially organised denial' of climate change was discussed, where climate change information is known in the abstract but 'people work to avoid acknowledging disturbing information'.

It may be that lack of public response to the dangers of climate change is caused by a very deep seated psychological phenomenon due to ancient internalised response patterns, and that societies will need to make great efforts to overcome these primeval predispositions which inhibit human response to threats perceived as complex and remote.

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Sunday, 11 October 2009

Climate Emergency - Countries with High CO2 Emissions must act together

A unified world vision, not developed vs. developing nation division, is vital for the new climate change treaty

The world is experiencing an unprecedented and potentially catastrophic climate emergency that needs decisive and swift action by all nations; nations that have the capability to make the most impact on the problem are those with high GHG emissions.

Recent reports from the UNFCCC climate change talks in Bangkok indicate scant progress and a deepening divide between developed and developing nations, with high emission developing nations arguing for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol (under which they need not make binding emissions reduction commitments) and the G77 critical of emission cuts and financing offered by developed nations.

A new agreement on climate change in Copenhagen will be ineffective unless it includes a clear commitment by all the world's largest GHG emitters to reduce their emissions. China (23.9%), USA (18 %), Russia, (5.3%) India (5%), Japan (4.1%) are the highest emitters contributing over half of all anthropogenic CO2 (Figure 15.1)
Figure 15.1 Countries with the highest percentages of World CO2 emissions in 2008
(click image to enlarge)

The big emitters are now a mix of developed and developing nations with China's CO2 emissions having surpassed those of the USA. So, in the context of emissions mitigation, taking 'developed and developing' as primary categories is inappropriate.

Countries may have been distinguished in this way under Kyoto but significant changes have occurred since1990 (Figure 15.2).

It needs to be said that nations that industrialised long ago did so in ignorance of the impact of their emissions on the climate. That cannot be said of nations now in the course of industrialising who are not ignorant of the effects of their GHG emissions on world climate systems.

Developing nations share of global CO2 emissions in 2008 (50.3%) exceeded that of industrialised countries (46.6%).

Figure 15.2 Change in CO2 emissions since 1990 (click image to enlarge)

Contracting time scales for action to combat climate change are indicated by the latest evidence from climate science. Responsibility for addressing the climate emergency falls on all nations, because it affects all nations.

Action is needed from all countries with high GHG emissions

It is the emissions reduction actions of high GHG emitting nations, whether developed or developing, that will have the most impact on the climate emergency.

The USA stood aside from the Kyoto Protocol because high emitting developing countries would not undertake emissions reduction targets. The world cannot afford large GHG emitters to stay outside a new climate treaty.

In the future public opinion will judge harshly those who failed to engage to address the universal threat to humanity posed by climate change. An effective new agreement in Copenhagen particularly needs both of the mega-emitters, China and the USA to commit to realistic, deliverable emission reductions.

Undoubtedly a new climate change agreement will retain elements of the Kyoto protocol. But Kyoto has not been an effective tool; emissions have risen significantly since1990. A unified 'one world' vision, not developed vs. developing division, is needed for the new climate change treaty.

Yes - developed nations must curb their emissions and change to low carbon lifestyles

Yes - developed nations will need to provide finance and technology to help developing nations on to the path to low carbon development and adaptation. That is how they can address international equity in relation to emissions due to their early industrialisation.

And Yes - high emitting developing nations also need to curb their emissions. They cannot put GHG into the atmosphere to match historical emissions because the world is already beyond the limit of the GHG concentrations that can be accommodated without immense damage to the environment.

A unified vision for a new climate change treaty is vital

Yvo de Boer said in Bangkok 'What we must do now is to hold back from self interest and let the common interest prevail '

The common interest of all the peoples of the world lies in collaboration to tackle the climate emergency effectively. A unified 'one world' vision, not developed vs. developing division, is needed for the new climate change treaty.

Footnote Data in the tables are taken from a collation by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). In this post only CO2, not other GHG and LULUCF, is considered but the PBL data includes CO2 from cement manufacture

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Climate Change - China and the USA must show leadership

The public are impatient with blame-game climate change politics

Achieving any practical agreement in COP15 Copenhagen is really down to down to what commitments are made by China and USA; its effectiveness in mitigating global warming will depend on their actions thereafter.

The example set by China and the USA will be the most important element in persuading others to act.

China and the USA are the world's largest CO2 emitters so their emissions reductions will have the most impact.

The developed /developing country climate change impasse is evident again with China accusing developed countries of being the cause of a lack of progress in Bangkok. Yu Qingtai is reported to have suggested 'a lack of political will on the part of Annex 1 countries'

This type of developed /developing accusatory rhetoric is unhelpful, whatever its origin.

Both China and USA have immense political problems in persuading their citizens that action to mitigate climate change is absolutely necessary. In consequence both should acknowledge that they share the same difficulties, focus on the political essentials and move ahead.

The public are fed up with Yah-Boo blame-game climate change politics.

There is only one world, and we all share it.
Inaction on climate change is not an option; China and the USA must show leadership.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

European Union attitudes to climate change - discourse in key EU climate change documents

Ban Ki-Moon's climate change locomotive

UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon, at a news conference on October 1st with Swedish Prime Minister Reinfeldt, said that he was 'counting on the leadership of Mr. Reinfeldt and his European Union counterparts in meeting global challenges including climate change'

Mr. Ban said that 'the EU's role will be critically important' and coined a memorable phrase by saying that the EU could 'act as a locomotive' for the Copenhagen COP15 talks.

But Mr. Ban my not have given close attention to details of the EU stance on climate change, as the discourse in EU official documents, if read carefully, reveals EU attitudes that can be self congratulatory and prescriptive, particularly in relation to what developing countries should do.

Leadership at the Copenhagen meeting will require skills of diplomacy and persuasion, a willingness to see others points of view and flexibility in responding to them. In its official documents at least, the EU does not convey the impression that these are qualities that it can bring to the table.

The European Union position on climate change

The EU position on climate change is set out in two key EU official 'Communications' from the European Commission.

These are 'Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius-The way ahead for 2020 and beyond', part of a package of measures published in January 2007 and 'Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen', published in January 2009.

The Communications are turgid EU documents with nuggets of interest embedded in reams of eurospeak.

Luckily the EU does provide the key points in more digestible form as information for its citizens in Memos that accompany the Communications. 2007 MEMO/07/17 and 2009 MEMO/09/34.

The Memos, in Q&A format, provide answers to questions that the EU thinks its citizens might like to ask (!) about the Communications.

The Memos are an interesting read in relation to what they convey about EU attitudes as much as for their content.

Some insights about the EU attitudes and preoccupations about climate change implicit in the language and content of the Memos are highlighted here.

MEMO/07/17, if considered critically conveys a message that EU perceives itself to be a (self appointed) leader in relation to climate change, that the EU has set an example on emissions reduction that other developed countries should follow and that developing countries should follow EU prescriptions of what they should do about climate change.

The lofty tone visible at times in the rhetoric, neither acknowledges that others may have knowledge and understanding about climate change equivalent to that of the EU, nor that they may have their own valid plans for combating it e.g....

'The EU cannot win the battle against climate change on its own but it can show leadership by setting a convincing example'

(vis. Emulate the unilateral EU 20% emissions cut by 2020,and 30% if a satisfactory international agreement is concluded)

'Developing countries should .... reduce emissions in absolute terms from 2020 onwards'

Re 'Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen' 2009 MEMO/09/34

Two years on the EU position leading up to COP15 seems to have toughened. The 2009 MEMO/09/34 says that the Communication sets out 'concrete proposals for action by the EU and the rest of the international community'.

This could be construed as the EU setting out its vision for a climate change agreement but the tone of Memo/09/34 is very authoritarian. What the EU considers developed and developing countries 'should do' is emphasised e.g.

...30% by 2020 emissions targets for developed countries, differentiated on four criteria proposed by the EU ....national low carbon development strategies for all countries...extension of carbon markets registration for developing country actions... reform of CDM.... and more..

The phrase, 'developing countries should...' and words 'should', 'necessary' and 'essential' are prominent.

The tone is often quite haughty e.g.

'To ensure an appropriate and effective contribution by developing countries...'

'Many policy options are available to developing countries where long term benefits can outweigh the costs...'

'Developing countries will increasingly be required to reduce the growth in their emissions using their domestic resources.....

Will Ban Ki Moon's EU locomotive leave the station?

The Memos convey that the EU sees itself as a leader, and as setting an example to others. They present a strong EU perspective that developing countries should contribute to the global effort and a preoccupation with, and drive to, extend carbon emissions trading; even in respect of developing economies e.g. 'financial assistance should be linked through carbon trading mechanisms'.

Whether others will see the EU as having a leadership role, or agree with the EU propositions about how climate change should be addressed, or be willing to follow the 'EU example' or its prescriptions for action, is questionable. It may well be that Ban Ki Moon's locomotive never leaves the station.

Approaching negotiations like a steamroller is not likely to lead to agreement. The EU will need to examine its self perceptions, be willing to accept other viewpoints, to compromise on its own ideas of how climate change should be addressed and perhaps be somewhat humble if it is to be an effective broker of a climate change agreement and become Ban Ki Moon's 'locomotive' for COP15.


Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius The way ahead for 2020 and beyond

COM (2007) 2 final Brussels, 10.1.2007

Questions and Answers on the Commission Communication 'Limiting Global Climate Change to 2°C' Brussels, 10 January 2007

Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen

COM (2009) 39 final Brussels, 28.1.2009

Questions and Answers on the Communication 'Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen' EC Brussels 28.1.2009


The choice of language used in all discourse carries with it perspectives and underlying assumptions reflecting the (unspoken) world views of both the writer and the reader and what they think is important, valuable or desirable. The quotes above are selected to highlight attitudes which strike this reader as underlying the EU position on climate change in the Memos. They do not necessarily correspond to interpretations made by other readers. References and links are provided to allow easy access to the documents in question.