EU sets sights low for climate talks | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 26.11.2010
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EU sets sights low for climate talks

In the wake of last year's underwhelming result in Copenhagen, the European Union is going into the climate talks in Cancun with few expectations. A side deal on forestry may be the most to hope for.

EU climate chief Connie Hedegaard

The EU's climate chief thinks agreements are possible on some things, but not a treaty

Deutsche Welle spoke with Connie Hedegaard, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action, about the prospects of making any real progress towards a treaty to tackle climate change at this year's summit in Cancun, Mexico, which runs from November 29 to December 10, 2010.

Deutsche Welle: What are the priorities for the European Union at the Cancun talks?

A coal-fired power plant in Poland

Emissions began rising in 2010, following a slight fall in 2009 due to the economic crisis

Connie Hedegaard: The main agenda for the European Union is to get a balanced package of decisions coming out of Cancun in order to keep momentum in the international climate negotiations, and to deliver on some of the pledges given by the leaders last year in Copenhagen.

Due to the lack of legislation coming through the American Senate and due to the lack of progress in some other capitals, we can see that although the EU is ready, as we were last year in Copenhagen, we will not get an internationally binding deal done by Cancun. But we can try to secure a set of decisions, for instance a framework for forestry. We could have an agreement on an adaptation framework. There was some substantial progress on both these issues in the formal negotiations in Copenhagen.

We also ought to be able to agree on a framework of principles for how to cooperate on technology. And, of course, the developed countries must deliver on their financial pledges from Copenhagen. It's absolutely crucial that the thirty billion dollars promised in fast-start financing for this year, next year and 2012 are actually delivered.

On the subject of forestry, what are you aiming for and what do you think is realistic?

We are aiming for an agreement that would turn the incentive structure around - for example, for the Brazilian farmer, who, today, often has no other choice but to chop down the rainforest if he wants to have a plot where he can cultivate something he and his family can live from. We want to change that so that in the future you can also gain something from protecting the rainforest, because that is in everybody's interest.

On the subject of turning funding pledges into reality: What progress would you like to see this time that didn't come about before?

If you ask the developing countries, they will say they have seen far too many international conferences where developed countries pledged this, that or the other, but they never saw the money coming their way in reality. This time we must do better. The developed countries as a group pledged to deliver around 30 billion dollars. Europe said we can account for around a third of that amount.

Now when we come to Cancun, we will prove that that is exactly what we are going to deliver. The 27 member states and the commission together will deliver 7.4 billion euros ($10 billion) and live up to our pledges.

President Obama at a press conference in Novemebr 2010

The EU doesn't expect much from the US, which didn't pass a climate bill in 2010

How do you see the position of a country like China?

I think it is difficult to interpret the position of China. I feel that China is very constructive when I have meetings with their ministers. They are also very strong in defending the Copenhagen Accord. But sometimes I hear signals of backtracking, and, to be honest, it's a bit confusing.

I think it's crucially important that China does not hide behind the lack of legislation in the US because China is such a huge player. And the paradox is that there is so much that China is actually doing at home. They are addressing energy efficiency and energy intensity, and they will be putting up new targets for renewable energy sources. For the first time, they will probably have CO2 emissions targets.

Seen from a European perspective, it would also be preferable for them to engage strongly in the international negotiations. For many developing countries, what China says is absolutely crucial. So we think it's very important that they engage, as China is now the world's biggest emitter.

Some recent reports suggested that, although the EU has been successful on paper in reducing emissions, a lot of the emissions have been "exported," because, in a country like China, for example, a lot of the emissions are caused by producing goods for export?

It's of course true that, since 1990, a lot of our production in Europe has been outsourced. That's also the reason why it's so important to get a global deal.

You're right that if we are just outsourcing production to those who are not part of an internationally binding deal, how much of the problem would we be solving? However, it does not change the fact that, in Europe, we have also been improving in the field of energy efficiency. Along with Japan, we are the most energy efficient region of the world. In our climate and energy package for 2020, we have set a target of 20 percent renewable energy sources. We are on track to reach that.

There was such massive disappointment after Copenhagen that a lot of people do not have very high expectations for Cancun. Do you think, against that background that something really can be achieved to take us further?

A bicyclist cycles past a Chinese power plant

The EU wants China to commit to reductions in its emissions

Europe is working very hard to achieve an ambitious outcome from Cancun. Yes, it looks difficult, but I think the sense of urgency should not be any less than prior to Copenhagen. Because what has happened since? The climate has not improved.

We have seen the hottest 12 months in a row ever recorded. The chance remains with us. We have to address it. And for each year we postpone action, the more expensive and the more difficult it's going to be in the end.

Interview: Irene Quaile
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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