After Copenhagen: a positive step but not nearly ambitious enough for EU

Commission president José Manuel Barroso expressed disappointment with the 11th-hour accord eked out at the Copenhagen climate conference, saying it fell “far short” of the EU’s expectations. The pact lacks elements the EU considers crucial, including collective targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Not only does it fail to set a 2010 deadline for concluding a treaty, it does not even mention the need for a legally binding agreement.

The conference, scheduled to end Friday, then went into overtime as world leaders wrangled over whether to accept the agreement or go home empty-handed. On Saturday, after a night of heated debate, they decided to “take note” of the pact.

As the clock ticked, negotiations appeared on the brink of collapse, with industrialised and developing nations facing off over how to ensure fast-developing nations follow through on pledges to limit emissions. The deal emerged from last-minute talks between the US and four major developing nations – China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

“I will not hide my disappointment,” president Barroso said. “The level of ambition is honestly not what we were hoping for. Still, this accord is better than no accord”.

The deal calls for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases “with a view” to keeping global warming below 2°C, considered the threshold beyond which climate change may spiral out of control. It asks developed nations to make deep, verifiable cuts. Developing countries would begin curbing their emissions and report their results every two years, with “provisions for international consultations and analysis”.

But the text sets no global emissions targets like the 20% cut already required of EU countries. It will be up to individual countries to determine how far to go. The accord cites 2015 as a deadline for a review of action taken, but nations must state their goals by the end of January.

The most tangible result was an agreement by developed nations to spend $30bn (€21bn) over the next three years and $100bn (€70bn) by 2020 to fund projects in poor nations to promote clean energy and deal with drought, rising sea levels and other climate changes. The EU has pledged €7.2bn of the €21bn in fast-start funding, expected to come from a variety of sources, private as well as public.

Negotiations to draw up a United Nations agreement on tackling climate change for the period after 2012, when key provisions of the Kyoto Protocol expire, were due to conclude at the Copenhagen conference on 7-18 December 2009.

The European Union already plays a leading role in the global fight against climate change. In December 2008 the EU adopted an integrated energy and climate change policy, setting ambitious targets for 2020. COP15 meeting in Copenhagen in December, was expected to finalise an international agreement on a framework for combating climate change for the period after 2012.