Europe feels left out in cold on climate deal


LONDON (AP) — It’s a climate deal that has Europe feeling left out in the cold.

The continent that used to take the lead in advocating climate action is now taking the lead in climate complaining. And it’s not just upset with the results, but the process itself.

Europe’s goals were generally not met, and Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, host of the U.N.-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen, was shoved aside as president of the conference in favor of Philip Weech of the Bahamas.

When a deal was reached, those in the room were heads of state from Africa, North and South America and Asia — not Europe.

The unhappiness extends to Europe’s business community, which worries that a failure to agree to international emissions cuts could put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Since Europe had already agreed to binding emission cuts, “they needed the United States and developing countries to agree to binding reductions, which they didn’t because the United States couldn’t without the United States Congress acting,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund in the U.S. The developing countries didn’t agree because the U.S. didn’t, he added.

The Copenhagen Accord emerged principally from President Barack Obama’s meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and the leaders of India, Brazil and South Africa. But the agreement was protested by several nations that demanded deeper emissions cuts by the industrialized world.

The U.S.-brokered compromise calls for reducing emissions to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

The agreement’s key elements, with no legal obligation, were that richer nations will finance a $10 billion-a-year, three-year program to fund poorer nations’ projects to deal with drought and other impacts of climate change, and to develop clean energy. A goal was also set to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 for the same adaptation and mitigation purposes.

The nations attending the U.N. conference agreed by consensus on a compromise to “take note” of the accord, instead of formally approving it.

Robert Orr, the U.N. policy coordination chief, said a document will shortly be opened for signatures from all countries, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all to sign and work toward a legally binding treaty in 2010.

Politicians are blaming China and other developing countries for cutting the heart of out of the climate deal, with Britain accusing Beijing of vetoing a deal for mandatory emission cuts and an EU official complaining that some Latin American countries had held the entire conference hostage.

“Never again should we face the deadlock that threatened to pull down those talks,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday. “Never again should we let a global deal to move towards a greener future be held to ransom by only a handful of countries.”

British climate change minister Ed Miliband wrote in The Guardian newspaper that most countries — developed and developing — supported binding cuts in emissions, but that “some leading developing countries currently refuse to countenance this.” He singled out Beijing as the culprit behind the talks’ near-collapse.

“We did not get an agreement on 50 percent reductions in global emissions by 2050 or on 80 percent reductions by developed countries. Both were vetoed by China, despite the support of a coalition of developed and the vast majority of developing countries,” Miliband wrote.

China saw it differently.

“China has played an important and constructive role in pushing the Copenhagen climate talks to earn the current results, and demonstrated its utmost sincerity and made its best effort,” Wen told the official Xinhua news agency.

“These are hard-won results made through joint efforts of all parties, which are widely recognized and should be cherished,” he said.

EU officials returned from Copenhagen disappointed by the meager outcome of the conference and angry that countries such as Nicaragua, Bolivia, Sudan and Venezuela kept the rest from signing a more ambitious global pact.

The EU claimed a climate leadership role for Europe by promising in March 2007 to cut its emissions by 20 percent by 2020, compared with 1990, and by 30 percent if others, notably the United States, followed suit. While that has not happened, the EU sticks by its emissions cuts of 20 percent and 30 percent.

But Europe’s role is not what it could have been or used to be, said Jorgen Delman, a China studies professor at Copenhagen University.

“They didn’t play the role they could have played,” Delman said. “But I think it was clear that the U.S. and China would be dominant. The European Union as a bloc was not in a position to be a dominant player.”

Europe’s problem was that it offered too much, too soon in negotiations, and was essentially taken for granted, experts said. In addition, when it comes to emissions of greenhouse gases, all of Europe combined isn’t as a big a player as the U.S. or China. The biggest emitter in Europe is Germany, and it is behind India, Russia and Japan.

“Europe could shut down and it really wouldn’t matter” in terms of the types of significant emission cuts, said John Christensen, head of the U.N. Environment Program’s center for energy, climate and sustainable development, based in Denmark.

Another problem was that Denmark’s leaders made “various mistakes” early in the bureaucratic process that slowed things down and annoyed some African nations, Christensen said. That led to Rasmussen stepping down.

Not all in Europe were critical. German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the summit’s outcome as a first step that paves the way for action. She added that “anyone who just badmouths Copenhagen now is engaging in the business of those who are applying the brakes rather than moving forward.”

European companies said they were “disappointed by the limited outcome” of the climate talks that did nothing to demand that other regions match rules that punish polluters in Europe — which they fear will force heavy energy users such as steel and chemicals to quit the 27-nation bloc.

“The Copenhagen Accord has not brightened the prospect for a global level-playing field in the future,” said a press release from BusinessEurope, which represents some 20 million companies.

“On the contrary, European companies have to pay for their emissions under the EU Emission Trading Scheme and are as exposed to carbon leakage as they were before Copenhagen,” it said.

The companies also say they “strongly regret” that the U.S., China and others “only repeated their limited mitigation commitments.”

They called for them to swiftly move toward a legally binding agreement “because companies need predictability to develop the new green solutions on which a future low-carbon economy will depend.”

Europe’s steel industry federation Eurofer said that in the name of remaining competitive, the EU should avoid increasing its target to reduce emissions to 30 percent by 2020 until industries in other parts of the world make similar cuts.