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Europe Leads Way in Climate Talks

At the Climate Change Conference in Buenos Aires, the EU has focused attention on the post-Kyoto process. Now that Russia has ratified the pact and it goes into force next year, it is time to look beyond 2012.

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The EU wants to set new global emission goals for 2012

The European Union has always been a leading force at climate change negotiations. As one of the early signatories to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming, the EU has set itself up as an example for other regions of the world to follow. In the past it has lobbied to convince skeptical nations to sign up to the pact. It was instrumental in pressuring Russia to ratify the treaty in November paving the way for it to become legally binding in January 2005. It has also been the most vocal critic of the US opposition to the protocol.

In its own backyard, the EU is on track to cut emissions by eight percent between 2008 and 2012, owing largely to significant cuts made by Germany and Great Britain under the bloc’s unique burden sharing agreement. According to Kilaparti Ramakrishna, a climate change expert from the Woods Hole Reasearch Center, although the efforts of the two countries are exemplary, the fact that the burden to reduce emissions rests on just a few countries, lets other EU members off the hook.

“They need to do a lot more to really work with the rest of the community in terms of moving the bloc forward,” Ramakrishna said of the two leading emission cutters. “If the EU believes what it preaches, it needs to demonstrate that more at home,” he said.

Looking ahead

At this year’s climate change conference, the EU focused attention on the period after 2012, when the first stage of Kyoto ends. In an effort to speed up the process and begin defining new goals for the second phase, the EU has floated a plan to hold separate seminars in between the annual climate change conferences.

Yvo de Boer, deputy director general for the Dutch environment ministry and head of the EU delegation in Buenos Aires, said it was time to look beyond the first stage of Kyoto. “Up until now, no one has been willing to talk about the future until the Kyoto Protocol had entered into force. Now that that has happened we can move forward.”

Leaving the US behind

But the United States, which has rejected the Kyoto Protocol, remains the biggest obstacle to reducing global greenhouse gases. As the world’s single largest polluter, the US has opposed any discussion on the second commitment period after 2012. Green groups, therefore, have expressed doubt over the likelihood of success in further climate change negotiations. They have also criticized the European Union’s attempts to lure the US back into the Kyoto process.

Catherine Pearce, a climate change campaigner for Friends of the Earth International, said Europe needs to step forward and “push the negotiations ahead in a far more positive way.”

Europe’s leadership role in the negotiations is undeniable, she said, pointing to countries like Germany, Britain and the Netherlands. But they need to be more active. “They need to step away from the United States and move much further and leave the US behind,” she said.

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