The Road to Cancun, Part 2: The View from Brussels

Laurence Graff heads the European Commission's International and Inter-Institutional Relations unit in the Directorate General for Climate Action. She briefed reporters Monday at a climate conference in Brussels.

The planet is sliding down a rapidly deteriorating path toward a global climate catastrophe, and unless the rest of the world starts acting a lot more like Europe — and fast — we’re all toast.

That’s a very condensed, highly over-simplified and more than slightly unfair characterization of what a high-level EU official told us yesterday about what’s at stake in the upcoming international climate conference in Cancun, Mexico.

Thing is, she may well be right …

The bearer of these somewhat grim tidings was Laurence Graff. She’s a top official in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Climate Action, a new agency formed just this year to emphasize the high priority the EU is placing on tackling global warming. She’s been in the thick of the negotiations aimed at trying to get an international climate treaty.

These talks combine all the worst characteristics of diplomacy, bureaucracy, politics and professional wrestling. They’re byzantine in their complexity, awash in insider jargon, frustratingly opaque and perpetually thwarted by disingenuous posturing and naked short-term self-interest. If they were about anything less than the future habitability of the only known life-sustaining planet in this sector of the galaxy, they’d make for wickedly funny entertainment.

Of course, nobody’s been laughing since the talks in Copenhagen last December ground to a close with nothing more than a set of weak “pledges” to cut back greenhouse gas emissions (the words “commitments” and “obligations” were judged too controversial) brokered by just five countries: the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

In our briefing today here in Brussels, Ms. Graff diplomatically glossed over the fact that, in the waning hours of what she called “the Copenhagen trauma” — when the deals were being cut and the hog was in the tunnel — the Yanks and the Chinese elbowed Europe out of the room.

What she presented was an overview of what the EU brings to Cancun. The highlights …

* The EU is committed to one of the few solid goals to emerge from Copenhagen: to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.

* To do this, Europe will agree to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels. If other folks are willing to get on board, the EU is prepared to up that ante to 30%.  Currently, Europe is on track to meet its commitments under the Kyoto Accords by 2012, when the treaty expires.

* The  Europeans are prepared to make good on their $7.2 billion share of the $30 billion in “fast start” aid the rich countries have pledged to spend to help developing countries get the technology they need to by-pass the dirty-industrial phase that made the rich countries rich in the first place.

* The EU wants to see a global carbon market that uses cap-and-trade to ratchet emissions down to the needed levels.

* Europe’s vision? A global treaty that is “ambitious, legally-binding and fair.”

During the Q&A session, Ms. Graff deftly deflected my question about how long the EU was willing to be the only entity with a economy-wide carbon market. If the US and other major economies don’t join in, is there a point at which Europe won’t be willing to sit out on that limb all alone?

She did acknowledge that the failure of the US Senate to pass serious climate legislation was disappointing. Especially after Barack Obama was elected, she said, “We expected more from the US, both before and after Copenhagen.”

It’s hard to get everyone else on board with an international treaty if the US isn’t playing ball. And, she said, “there’s no hope of improvement in the short term and the (upcoming US) election is not likely to change that.”

A climate treaty can’t be “a Brussels-only club,” she added, because in the end, it won’t be enough to ward off climate disaster.

Bottom line: Europe is coming to Cancun ready to deal but, after the disappointment in Copenhagen, is keeping expectations modest.

More tomorrow, when we hear from Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s Most Lord High Climate Commissioner and – by all accounts –a real pistol.


One Response to The Road to Cancun, Part 2: The View from Brussels

  1. Pingback: The Road to Cancun, Part 2: The View from Brussels | Salmon Nation Euroblog

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