On 28 January 2009, the "Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen" (the "Communication") was released.

BACKGROUND

The Communication aims to facilitate the conclusion of a fair and effective United Nations climate change agreement that sets the world on a pathway to preventing global warming from reaching dangerous levels. International negotiations in relation to climate change are set to be finalised at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. It is hoped that an agreement in Copenhagen would set global goals to reduce emissions and provide the basis for strengthening countries' abilities to adapt to climate change.

THE PROPOSALS

The Communication sets out concrete proposals for action by the EU and the rest of the international community, with the aim of limiting the global average temperature rise to less than 2°C above the pre-industrial level. This is seen by many scientists as the threshold beyond which climate change would become far more dangerous, with the risk of irreversible and potentially catastrophic environmental changes. The Communication addresses three key challenges: targets and actions; financing and building an effective global carbon market.

KEY POINTS

A Europa press release succinctly summarises the key points of the Communication:

Developed countries to take the lead: The EU has already proposed that developed countries should commit to cutting their Greenhouse Gas ("GHG") emissions, as a group, to an average of 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 under the Copenhagen agreement. The Communication sets out criteria that should be taken into account when setting national reduction targets to ensure comparable contributions by each developed country to this overall effort.

Developed countries should limit growth of emissions: As a group, they should limit growth in their GHG emissions to 15-30% below business as usual levels by 2020. To enable them to do so, developing countries, except the least developed, should commit to putting forward national low carbon development strategies, covering action in all key emitting sectors, by the end of 2011. These plans will provide the basis for discussion at international level of the adequacy of the proposed actions and of external financial support for them where needed.

International aviation and shipping should be included: Emissions which are not covered by the Kyoto Protocol, should be included in the overall targets of the new agreement.

Adaptation strategies should be developed: The Copenhagen agreement should also provide a framework to help countries adapt to inevitable climate change. All developed and developing countries should be required to develop comprehensive national adaptation strategies. Financial and technological support should be provided to the most vulnerable developing countries.

Investment into RD&D of low-carbon and adaption technologies needed: A major boost to research, development and demonstration (RD&D) of low-carbon and adaptation technologies is needed in all sectors. Global energy-related RD&D should be at least doubled by 2012 and quadrupled by 2020.

Additional investment required: To reduce global emissions, it is estimated that net additional investment worldwide will need to rise to around €175bn per year by 2020, more than half of this in developing countries. Public and private sources of external support to developing countries will need to be provided in the context of the Copenhagen agreement. The public contribution of each developed country should be fair and comparable and should be negotiated as part of the deal. The Communication identifies options for creating innovative additional international financing sources.

Development of a carbon market: The EU should seek to build, by 2015, a robust OECD-wide carbon market through the linking of the EU emissions trading system with comparable domestic cap-and-trade systems in the US, Australia and other developed countries. As a first step, the Commission aims to set up an EU-US working group to share experience on designing domestic emissions trading systems. Over time developing countries should also implement domestic trading systems so the OECD-wide market could be expanded to all major emitting countries by 2020.

CDM should be reformed: Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism should be reformed, while for advanced developing countries and highly competitive economic sectors it should be phased out and replaced by a crediting mechanism covering whole sectors.

REACTIONS TO THE COMMUNICATION

The Communication has received mixed reviews.

MEPs have welcomed the proposals, whereas environmental groups have criticised the lack of commitment afforded by the Communication.

European Parliament President, Hans Gert Pöttering, gave a "strong welcome" to the proposals.

"Today's Strategy Paper is an important next step which aims at bringing our international partners on board too. We will only be successful in the fight against climate change if all of the major industrial countries, including the USA, China and India, together with less developed countries, work together."

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Party of European Socialists, noted:

"Europe must seize the opportunity of the turn around in attitude to climate change in the US, and work closely with America for the best possible new global deal. Of course, it is not only about talking to the Obama administration, nonetheless President Obama’s recent statements on climate change can give real momentum to the preparations for Copenhagen. Europe must help sustain that momentum and optimism."

Whereas Tom Sharman, head of climate change at Action Aid's response was:

"There are some good ideas here but the European Commission is ratcheting down its ambition at a time when the world should be stepping up efforts to tackle climate change. The European Commission is proposing loose commitments to additional public funding but there are no numbers."

Additionally, Elise Ford of Oxfam has noted that

"Unless developing countries see hard cash on the table, there is a real danger they simply walk away."

CONSULTATION

The Communication is addressed to the EU's legislative institutions (the Council and European Parliament) and consultative bodies (European Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions) for their consideration. The European Council is expected to discuss the Communication at the spring summit on 19-20 March.

To access the Communication click here.