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Peter Doran's Commentary - 26 October
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  "Pressure mounting on the EU to renew its leadership role in climate change negotiations"

The negotiations in Bonn take place against a background of failed ambition and a subsequent threat to the credibility of the participants. As the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, reminded us at the opening COP-5 Plenary on Monday, people throughout the world have been watching these negotiations with growing interest. They have a right to expect that what has been agreed will be put into practice.

The Chancellor added that anyone wishing to remain credible in climate change debate must show the world that they really are making every effort. They must implement at home what they have pledged on the international stage. If performance is the credibility test, the United Nations' projections that emissions from developed countries are expected to increase by 18 per cent above 1990 levels, compared with the Convention's goal of a 5 per cent reduction, suggests that business as usual among climate change negotiators and governments is not an option.

It is just two years since the European Union declared, in its negotiating stance at Kyoto, that it was both feasible and reasonable for all industrialized countries to cut their emissions by 15 per cent from 1990 levels by the year 2010. The leadership role demonstrated by the EU during the Kyoto negotiations was readily acknowledged by the NGO community. The EU's stance in 1997 invites comparison today with the low key role it has settled for in the current phase of negotiations.

Hermann E Ott and Sebastian Oberthür's challenge to the European Union, set out in their policy paper, "Breaking the Impasse" and in their book, "The Kyoto Protocol: International Climate Policy for the 21st Century" (1999) is appropriate and timely. They are convincing in their argument that the EU's apparent readiness to wait for the US and other "laggard" States to play catch-up is ill founded. To say the least, the EU's stance is a high risk approach. The authors call for a leadership initiative, led by the Union and a coalition of other countries committed to strong policies, leading to the creation of a new critical mass of support that is "absolutely necessary for breathing new life into the international climate policy process."

Such a leadership initiative would consist of:

  • Early and prompt ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the EU and efforts to bring Russia and Japan on board;
  • International co-ordination of low-cost or no-cost measures for domestic implementation;
  • Strategies to meet the needs of developing countries (including a transaction fee on Kyoto Mechanisms to assist with adaptation) and a constructive medium-term dialogue with developing countries on the fair and equitable allocation of emission rights.

In Kyoto the European Union discovered that its ambitious target of 15 per cent collapsed with the failure of its Annex l allies to measure up. The result was a significant scaling back of the EU's own domestic ambitions. Without continued leadership efforts this trend will continue in the international negotiating process. Leadership by the EU is not only a guarantee for the integrity of the overall negotiations. Leadership by the EU is also a means for the Union to underwrite the integrity of the aspirations of its own governments and civil society.

Peter Doran, Digital Editor at COP-5

© 1999, Earth Negotiations Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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