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.

No comments:

Post a Comment