EU Troika Calls for Transatlantic Cimate Cooperation

The European Environment Troika with the European Commissioner for Environment, Stavros Dimas, and the Ministers of Environment of the Czech Republic and Sweden, Martin Bursík and Andreas Carlgren, whose countries hold the E.U. Presidency in 2009, on Monday called for enhanced transatlantic cooperation on climate and energy policy in view of the COP 15 in Copenhagen. At a panel discussion organized by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung and the Brookings Institution in cooperation with the Czech and Swedish Embassies, the E.U. Commissioner underlined the transatlantic potential for setting international climate standards and moving the world economy towards a global green new deal.

While Europe considered itself alone in combating climate change during most of the last decade, the panelists welcomed the Obama administration’s determination and expressed their hope for a new U.S.- European leadership. “Let’s aim higher than conventional thinking,” said Dimas, who described the mutual partnership as the only way to effectively fight climate change. On both sides of the Atlantic it is now agreed that the finance and climate crisis need to be addressed together. Investing in renewable energies and energy efficient technologies not only reduces emissions, but also generates important economic innovation and stimulus for sustainable growth.

The strategy already has a proven record in Europe. Countries like Sweden have managed to cut their emissions by 9% while the economy has grown by 44% in the same period, said Mr. Carlgren, the Swedish Minister of Environment. This tendency increased since the European Emissions Trading Scheme was installed in 2005. By putting a price on carbon emissions the trading scheme created a major driving force for energy efficient technologies and renewable energies. Not less instructive is the political consensus reached among the European states. In December 2008, a final agreement was reached on the European climate and energy package that set the emissions reduction target of -20% by 2020. The target would increase to -30% in case of an international treaty. Overcoming difficulties and finding a consensus is feasible, said Mr. Bursík, who was involved in the negotiations on the climate and energy package as part of the E.U. troika. Now heading the E.U. presidency, the Czech Minister of Environment urged the U.S. to find inspiration in the European example: “We are prepared to share leadership with the U.S., but we need a comparable effort.”

Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy shared Mr. Bursík’s optimistic view for a new transatlantic leadership on climate change. He indicated his conviction that the major emitters among the developing countries would be willing to move as soon as the U.S. commited to binding reduction targets, thus effectively ending other countries’ hiding behind American inaction. Only six developing countries are responsible for most of the developing world’s emissions. While they have already shown great progress, they would commit to further reductions if the U.S. were to take a leadership role. Helme draws this conclusion from the recently adapted agreement to reduce mercury pollution. This international agreement was achieved after the U.S. dropped its opposition, which then encouraged China and India to also join the treaty of 140 countries. However, for such a situation to occur in the climate negotiations, the U.S. will first need to act domestically. “What is needed is sufficient action in both the House and the Senate to give our negotiators a good sense of where our national cap is likely to be set,” said Helme.

But the urgency for U.S. action is high. “The outside world is looking to the United States to lead by example. Credible leadership is only won through concrete action,” said Dimas, who is convinced that the next round of negotiations has to be seized as the world’s opportunity to prevent climate change from reaching devastating levels. In this perspective he calls on the United States and the European Union to become the twin engine in setting the appropriate standards: By 2020, developed countries as a group will need to cut their emissions by 30% below 1990 levels. Developing countries as a group should limit the growth of their emissions to 15-30% below business as usual levels.

Remarks by Commissioner Stavros Dimas
Remarks by Ned Helme

Till Kötter, Project Manager of the Transatlantic Climate Policy Group, Heinrich Böll Foundation Washington