The CoP25 began with the expectation of renewed climate pledges by 2020 and key deliverables; however, there were more disagreements than agreements. Amidst these disagreements, the EU released its Green Deal on 11 December 2019. The deal aims to provide a template for a comprehensive strategy that would put EU on the path of no net emissions of greenhouse gases. This paper analyses the result of CoP25 held in Madrid and also highlights the key elements of the new European climate strategy, at the same time analysing whether it can be a template for other countries to follow.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference [also known as Conference of Parties (CoP)] held in Madrid in December 2019 was expected to tie-up the loose ends of the world’s first universal climate treaty by firming up the guidelines for the carbon markets, thereby completing the “Paris Agreement Rulebook”. The result of the summit was far from what was expected. The 12-day talks were further extended by two days, so that the governments could agree on minimum-agreeable targets - however, no major commitments were made. In the midst of the summit, the European Union (EU) presented its ambitious 2050 targets of becoming carbon-neutral in their new ‘European Green Deal’. This paper tries to analyse the reasons for the failure of CoP25. It also looks at the new European climate strategy and whether it can serve as a template for other countries to follow.
What was at Stake at CoP25?
In the run up to the CoP25, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published two crucial reports titled The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and Climate Change and Land in September 2019. Both the reports presented a bleak picture for the future. Climate Change and Land highlighted that “climate change, including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes, has adversely impacted food security and terrestrial ecosystems as well as contributed to desertification and land degradation in many regions” of the world. The recommendations included re-forestation, sustainable land development and adaptation of new practices to combat further destruction[i].The IPCC’s report on the Earth’s oceans and frozen regions, including glaciers and ice sheets, concluded that the oceans have absorbed “20-30 % of human carbon emissions since 1980s causing their pH levels to decline making them more acidic”.[ii] The crux of the report was that the rate at which the oceans are warming has doubled since 1993, leading to extreme impact on the marine ecology and ecosystems resulting in reduction of species of marine fauna and foundational species like corals. The sea-level has increased in the past decades owing to the melting of permafrost in Greenland, ice-sheets in Antarctica and glaciers all over the world. The “ice-extent in the Arctic sea has declined by 13% per decade and Arctic’s older, thicker sea ice, which acts as a bastion against melting of other sea ice, has almost completely disappeared. Only about 10% of sea ice is at least five years old.”[iii]
Keeping in view the above reports, the CoP25 began with the expectation of renewed climate pledges by 2020 and two key deliverables – first, to agree on rules under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement[iv] and second, to create a financial mechanism on loss and damage. The summit failed to deliver both the requirements. The 2020 pledges – under the Paris Agreement, the nations are expected to renew their targets in 2020. The expectation from CoP25 was that the summit would urge the nations to make these targets more ambitious given the enormity of climate change. However, countries like China and India refused to support a stronger language unless the same was applied to developed countries. These countries in a pre-2020 stocktaking session called for the “working programme on closing the pre-2020 implementation gaps” by the developed countries[v], which was opposed by the EU. The EU justified its opposition on the ground that the “focus should be on the future ambition under the Paris Agreement which should apply to all”[vi]. In the final text, emphasis was only laid on the parties to communicate their commitments in 2020.
The agreement on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on the establishment of the rules of the carbon market was the key discussion point for the CoP25. However, no consensus was reached on the issue with the discussion going in different directions on what the rules should look like. The contentions began with countries like Australia, India, and Brazil etc. pushing for the carryover of the carbon units[vii] allotted to them under the Clean Development Mechanism established under the Kyoto Protocol to the new system. This raised two major concerns – first, flooding of carbon market with cheap units which do not necessarily represent real emission reduction and second, they were not in line with 1.5 degree Celsius temperature goal of the Paris Agreement, thereby undermining the whole system. As no consensus was reached, the discussions are expected to continue in CoP26 at Glasgow in 2020. However, a group of 31 countries led by Costa Rica signed the San Jose Principles that formed a “set of minimum standards for ensuring the integrity of the global carbon market”.[viii]
Also, little progress was made on “loss and damage” principle under which a long-term financing plan to help the vulnerable nations, affected by the irreversible impacts of climate change, was to be presented. There was expectation that the 2013 Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM)[ix] – within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – would be reviewed. This was because the vulnerable countries have been pushing for the establishment of a new financial mechanism under the WIM to “channel new and additional loss and damage finance to countries facing climate emergency”[x]. With no concrete decisions the funding issue remains unresolved, however, countries agreed on the “creation of an expert panel to consider support for loss and damage and a Santiago Network[xi] to facilitate technical support… (countries) Urged developed country Parties to scale up action and support, as appropriate, including finance, technology and capacity-building, for developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change”.[xii]
Key Elements of the European Green Deal
Amidst all these disagreements, the EU released its Green Deal on 11 December 2019. The deal aims to provide a template for a comprehensive strategy that would put EU on the path of “no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use.”[xiii] The European Green Deal is premised on a nine-step plan – first, to advance EU’s climate ambitions for 2030-2050 under which the Commission has committed to propose first Climate Law by March 2020. They are also planning to update their emissions reduction target to 50-55% by 2030 as compared to the previous target of 40%[xiv].
Second, a circular economy plan prioritises the “reusing and reducing materials before recycling”[xv] that will help reduce the wastage and opitimise the use of materials and products. The focus of the plan is to decarbonise and modernise energy intensive industries like chemicals, steel etc. Third, to address the twin challenges of energy efficiency and affordability, the sustainable construction and renovation of private and public buildings would be prioritised. The focus is to ensure that the design of new and renovated buildings is in line with the needs of the circular economy, and lead to increased digitalisation and climate-proofing of the building stock. Fourth is the transportation sector, which according to the Green Deal accounts for a quarter of EU’s emissions. Therefore to achieve carbon neutrality, atleast 90% reduction is needed in this sector by 2050. The emphasis is placed on “ramping of production and deployment of sustainable alternative fuels…about 1 million public recharging and refuelling stations by 2025 for the 13 million zero- and low-emission vehicles which are expected on European roads.”[xvi] Fifth is the Farm to Fork initiative to promote environment friendly food structures. The focus is on the farming and fishing practices to strengthen efforts to preserve biodiversity and tackle climate change. “The Commission’s proposal for the common agricultural policy for 2021-2027 stipulates that at least 40% of the common agricultural policy’s overall budget and at least 30% of the Maritime Fisheries Fund would contribute to climate action.”[xvii]
Sixth is the financing. The Commission has estimated that to achieve the targets set for 2030 would require an additional annual investment of €260 billion. This to be done in three tiers – first, European Commission (EC) will present its Sustainable Europe Investment Plan which would combine “financing to support sustainable investments and proposals for an improved enabling framework that is conducive to green investment”. InvestEU fund would contribute at least 30% towards tackling climate change. Second, European Investment Bank has doubled its investments in climate change initiatives “from 25 to 50% by 2025”. Third is the Just Transition Mechanism that would focus on all-inclusive policies to “leave no-one behind”. The focus is on “the regions and sectors that are most affected by the transition because they depend on fossil fuels or carbon-intensive processes. It will draw on sources of funding from the EU budget as well as the EIB group to leverage the necessary private and public resources.” Seventh is the focus on research and development to promote and produce new technologies and sustainable solutions. The Horizon Europe’s 35% budget would fund these new solutions for mitigating climate change[xviii].
Eighth is the projection of EU as a global leader in fighting climate change. The EU would develop “green deal diplomacyfocused on convincing and supporting others to take on their share of promoting more sustainable development. By setting a credible example, and following-up with diplomacy, trade policy, development support and other external policies, the EU can be an effective advocate.”[xix] Ninth is a European Climate Pact to be launched by March 2020. This pact would focus on three ways of engagement – first, encourage information sharing and public understandings of the challenges posed by climate change. Second is to provide platforms to people and stakeholders to express their ideas on how to move forward. Third, to exchange good practices and ensure that green transition features are discussed and debated.
Can European Green Deal Lead the Way?
Amnesty International conducted a poll in December 2019 on the top 23 issues facing the world. 41% of the respondents said that climate change is the most important issue facing the world today, followed by pollution (36%) and terrorism (31%).[xx] Despite the urgency of putting in place policies mitigating the climate impact, the CoP25 failed on its key deliverables. There was no commitment made in terms of either carbon market rules or financial resources to be pledged.
After the European Parliament declared climate and environmental emergency[xxi] in November 2019, the EC presented its European Green Deal with a commitment of reducing its net emissions to 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. The deal appears to be the most ambitious plan that any government has ever presented to address climate change. The deal calls for the overhauling of every sector of the economy – transportation, agriculture, industry and innovation – and make them sustainable by allocating financial mechanisms to achieve the proposed targets. There is hardly any doubt that this new deal is ambitious and aims to decarbonise world’s second largest economy in the next three decades. The EU has already proved that emission reduction and improvement of GDP can go hand-in-hand, for example, “from 1990 to 2018, the EU emissions have reduced down by 23 percent and its GDP has grown by 61 percent, highlighting the fact that economic growth is possible without pushing the environment on the edge”.[xxii]
However ambitious targets the deal might have, there are challenges to the deal within the EU as well. Europe has kept for itself a very tight timeline to come up with renewed nationally determined contributions (NDCs) before the CoP26 to be held in Glasgow in November 2020. Like all the other signatories of the Paris Agreement, the member states are under pressure to not only deliver on their previous commitments but also to come up with their next targets. It remains to be seen as to how EU will come up with a unified policy to achieve the twin goals of individual member states presenting their targets as well as EU endorsing a common position. Also, Poland has rejected the push for carbon neutrality with the argument that it is unaffordable and the idea is nothing but a “fantasy” adding that “(Poland has) been exempted from the principle of applying climate neutrality policy. We will reach it at our own pace.”[xxiii]
The overarching ambition of the Commission to become carbon neutral would require extensive cooperation and engagement within the region and beyond. What needs to be kept in mind is that Europe accounts for around 9.1% of global carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 30% emissions from China, 14% from the US and 7% from India.[xxiv] Even if the EU is able to implement the deal, it would not amount to much unless concrete steps are taken by other countries and regions. Therefore it is crucial for the EU to look at the bigger picture and move beyond the continent to establish partnerships globally. The US exit from the Paris Agreement has paved the way to global climate leadership for economies that have sustained record of strong and committed climate action.
The EU and India have displayed commitment and leadership potential by taking affirmative action in significantly reducing carbon emissions. India has reduced its emission intensity by 21% of its GDP[xxv] and is on track to achieve its goal of 35% by 2030 as promised under Paris commitments. India has already achieved 83 GW of 175 GW renewable energy generation capacity, which has been revised to 450 GW.[xxvi] Globally India stands 4th in wind power, 5th in solar power and 5th in overall renewable power installed capacity.[xxvii] This provides the EU an opportunity to cooperate with India and share its expertise on issues relating to energy efficiency where cooperation is focused on smart grids, off-shore wind projects, solar parks, energy research and innovation. As the Green Deal states - “the EU will use its diplomatic and financial tools to ensure that green alliances are part of its relations”, one area where both the partners can increase their partnership is on the low-carbon emission plans whereby the EU can support India in its initiatives like Green India Mission, Clean Ganga which are aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of India[xxviii]. Also, as India tries to improve its grid-integration issues for solar and wind energy, the EU can share its expertise and provide technical cooperation on development of the system which can reliably integrate large shares of renewable energy.
The year 2020 is critical for the climate ambitions with the countries submitting their second round of NDCs and presenting their concrete emission reduction targets with plans on how they can be achieved. Climate change requires a global collective action involving all the stakeholders at every level. It has been five years since the Paris Climate deal where nearly 200 countries agreed to work towards limiting global warming, however few nations today are on track to achieve their goals. There is persistent climate scepticism among the developed countries largely motivated by their national economic interests and this is slowing down every multilateral diplomatic effort to address the issue. Also the withdrawal of the US from the Paris deal has not only undermined the agreement but has also set an example for the other countries to back away from their own commitments.
Within this scenario, European Green Deal presents an ambitious plan to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050. The implementation of the policy is going to be the real testing ground for the EU, where it will face diverging interests of member states, some of which still depend on coal for their energy sector. The industrial lobbies as well as the banking sector[xxix] have also raised concerns regarding their competitiveness and job markets with the implementation of the green deal.[xxx] It also needs to be remembered that this deal is limited to the member states, even if the Union is able to convert itself into a carbon neutral zone, the EU needs to persuade its partners to take effective climate action to drive real change. The European Green Deal outlines a series of actions that can be taken and its success in achieving the targets remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it does set an example on how to take a lead in fighting the climate emergency.
*Dr. Ankita Dutta, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i]Summary for Policy-makers, Special Report: Special Report On Climate Change And Land, Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/chapter/summary-for-policymakers/, Accessed on 5 January 2020
[ii] Summary for Policy Makers, The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and Climate Change and Land, IPCC, September 2019, https://report.ipcc.ch/srocc/pdf/SROCC_FinalDraft_FullReport.pdf, Accessed on 5 January 2020
[iii]4 Things to Know About the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere, World Resources Institution, 25 September 2019, https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/09/4-things-know-about-ipcc-special-report-ocean-and-cryosphere, Accessed on 5 January 2020
[iv] The cooperation mechanisms enshrined in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement form the legal framework to allow use of market-based climate change mitigation mechanisms. It enables the countries to cooperate in implementing their nationally determined contributions towards emission reduction. Under this, these reductions can be transferred between countries and can be counted towards NDCs. (For more details: https://unfccc.int/files/meetings/paris_nov_2015/application/pdf/paris_agreement_english_.pdf)
[v]Developing countries call for work programme on closing pre-2020 implementation gaps, Third World Network, 6 December 2019, https://twnetwork.org/climate-change/developing-countries-call-work-programme-closing-pre-2020-implementation-gaps, Accessed on 6 January 2020
[vi]Cop25: What was achieved and where to next?, Climate News, 16 December 2019, https://www.climatechangenews.com/2019/12/16/cop25-achieved-next/, Accessed on 6 January 2020
[vii]Carbon trading – Under the system, the polluter having more emissions is able to purchase the right to emit more and the country with lower emissions sells the right to emit carbon. Under the assigned amount unit of Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism – India has around 100 million ton of credit which it wanted to carry forward to the updated system. Similarly, Australia has 400 million credits.
[viii]Leading countries set benchmark for carbon markets with San Jose Principles, 14 December 2019, https://cambioclimatico.go.cr/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Leading-countries-set-benchmark-for-carbon-markets-with-San-Jose-Principles-1.pdf, Accessed on 7 January 2020
[ix]Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), United Nations Climate Change,https://unfccc.int/topics/adaptation-and-resilience/workstreams/loss-and-damage-ld/warsaw-international-mechanism-for-loss-and-damage-associated-with-climate-change-impacts-wim, Accessed on 7 January 2020
[x]Climate News, n.v
[xi] Santiago Network – It was established as a part of the WIM for averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change. It is mandated to catalyse the technical assistance of relevant organizations, bodies, networks and experts, for the implementation of relevant approaches at the local, national and regional level, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. (UNFCC, Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/DT.COP25.i7_CMA2.i6.pdf)
[xii]Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts and the 2019 review of the Mechanism, UNFCC, 13 December 2019, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/DT.COP25.i7_CMA2.i6.pdf, Accessed on 8 January 2020
[xiii]The European Green Deal, European Commission, 11 December 2019, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/european-green-deal-communication_en.pdf, Accessed on 8 January 2020
[xx]Climate Change Ranks Highest as Vital Issue of our Time, Amnesty International, December 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/12/climate-change-ranks-highest-as-vital-issue-of-our-time/, Accessed on 9 January 2020
[xxi] The Declaration of Climate Emergency by the European Parliament was the symbolic act to put the pressure on the member states and the European Commission to take stronger actions and positions on climate change. Declaring that it was no longer about the politics over the issue rather it a common responsibility, the Parliament voted in favor of the declaration with 429 lawmakers, 225 against and 19 abstaining.
[xxii] Foreign Policy, 17 December 2019, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/12/17/united-states-democrats-green-new-deal-eu-europe-technically-feasible-environment-progress/, Accessed on 3 February 2020
[xxiii]Euractiv, 13 December 2019, https://www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/news/poland-snubs-climate-neutrality-deal-but-eu-leaders-claim-victory/, Accessed on 9 January 2020
[xxiv]Jeffrey Sachs, Europe’s Green Deal, Project Syndicate, 13 December 2019, https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/europe-green-deal-is-global-beacon-by-jeffrey-d-sachs-2019-12, Accessed on 9 January 2020
[xxv] Reducing Emission Intensity - Emissions intensity is the level of GHG emissions per unit of economic activity, usually measured at the national level as GDP. This is usually done by tapping into non-fossil fuel energy sources and creating additional carbon sinks to fulfil commitment towards fight against climate change.
[xxvi] The Economic Times, 10 December 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-walking-the-talk-on-climate-change-commitments-prakash-javadekar/articleshow/72460454.cms?from=mdr, Accessed on 3 February 2020
[xxvii] PIB Releases, 4 July 2019, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1577038, Accessed on 3 February 2020
[xxviii] EU-India: A Renewed Strategic Partnership or Business as Usual?, CEPS, 8 November 2019, https://www.ceps.eu/eu-india-a-renewed-strategic-partnership-or-business-as-usual/, Accessed on 3 February 2020
[xxix] Euractiv, https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/interview/eu-banking-regulator-no-green-economy-if-we-encourage-banks-to-be-insolvent/, Accessed on 10 February 2020
[xxx] Euractiv, https://www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/news/revolt-brewing-against-eus-unrealistic-climate-goals/, Accessed on 10 February 2020