Europe sets pace for worldwide climate fight

Source: By Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2019

MADRID — The European Union this week bolstered its claim to the mantle of global climate guardian.

In the Spanish capital, where delegates from nearly 200 countries gathered for a second week of U.N. climate talks, representatives of the 28-nation compact offered to partner with any nation that would fight climate change or is in line to suffer from it.

In Brussels, the European Commission — the E.U.’s executive branch — yesterday announced plans for a green overhaul of the bloc’s economy, from manufacturing to agriculture to fisheries to power generation.

The centerpiece of the Green Deal is European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s road map for how the bloc will increase its pledge to the Paris Agreement. And at a summit today and tomorrow, the E.U. is expected to cement its promise to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Dutch official and European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans has spent the week shuttling between Madrid — where he met with counterparts from countries like China, Brazil and New Zealand on issues related to Paris implementation — and Brussels for the Green Deal launch.

He’s back in Spain today for the end of the conference and to present Europe’s post-2020 climate agenda to delegates assembled here.

Timmermans told reporters Monday that he was in search of “as many global partners as I can to move in the right direction.”

“Everybody subscribed to the Paris Agreement, but now the necessity is to translate that into concrete action,” he said. “And we as the E.U. want to lead by example, but since we’re only about 9% of the global emissions, it’s only really important if we can convince our global partners to move in the same direction.”

The E.U. has paid particular attention to China and India.

Next year, the Paris Agreement will ask countries to consider strengthening their commitments, and neither China nor India has signaled it will do that. That’s potentially destabilizing. If two of the world’s largest emitters decline to “ratchet up” their Paris targets, it could shake belief in both the deal and the objective of keeping warming to less damaging levels.

Last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report showed the window to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will close around 2030, when the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) offered next year likely will expire.

China long has been seen as on track to outperform its 2015 commitment to peak emissions by 2030. But its economy is slowing, and coal-fired generation has rebounded — dimming hopes that the world’s largest emitter might tighten its target.

The United States under President Obama was credited with having created the geopolitical conditions for NDCs — Obama unveiled the U.S. pledge in a joint rollout with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014, one year before the agreement of the Paris deal.

European leaders are trying to play the same role since U.S. climate politics changed under President Trump.

Days after the Trump administration took formal steps to withdraw the U.S. from the deal in November, French President Emmanuel Macron signed a joint declaration with Xi during a summit — calling the deal “irreversible.” Also in November, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and offered him €1 billion ($1.11 billion) for green urban transit.

The E.U. is hosting China for a conference in Leipzig, Germany, in September. While Chinese prime ministers have attended past E.U.-China summits, Xi himself is expected to make the trip next year. The summit is when the E.U. aims to reach an agreement with China on a new commitment to Paris.

In Paris, the E.U. promised to cut emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2030. Yesterday’s Green Deal shows the compact mulling a new target of between 50% and 55%, with nine countries, including France and Germany, pressing for a 55% NDC to be finalized quickly. The von der Leyen plan sets a timeline of June.

But climate advocates say the bloc should consider 65%. And they fear that rolling out the NDC in the summer or later will give member countries little time to discuss and approve it, and provide less time for the E.U. to reach out to the likes of India and China with a strong new target of its own in hand.

Goksen Sahin of Climate Action Network Europe said member states should consider holding extra summits to move the 2030 target more quickly — as they did this year to grapple with Brexit.

But Timmermans defended the commission’s plan, saying it would clear the European Parliament more quickly if there was adequate stakeholder consultation before it moved. He expressed optimism about prospects for a joint agreement on increased Paris ambition with China.

“Chinese leadership has consistently shown its awareness of the necessity to tackle the issue of global emissions, so I do believe there is a good basis for an agreement to be reached during the summit in September,” said Timmermans. He added that a joint agreement with China would “show collective leadership” that might convince other players to come to Glasgow, Scotland, next December with revised NDCs of their own.

Laurence Tubiana, a French official and key architect of the Paris deal, traveled to China with Macron last month.

“I saw the attachment of the Chinese to multilateralism and to make the Paris Agreement really implemented,” she told reporters in Madrid this week. “China’s role both politically and economically, as an investor, as a political power, is absolutely crucial for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. And for raising ambition.”

She compared China with the U.S., where “you have the federal government ignoring that, ignoring science.”

“China is not ignoring science,” she said.