Road to Paris COP21

The climate meeting due this December in Paris has been called the ‘last opportunity’ the world has to reach an agreement that will limit human-induced warming below a safe threshold. What role will the European Union play in the agreement’s negotiation?

This research project proposes that a satisfactory answer to that question requires the EU to no longer be treated as a ‘black box’. The project will analyze the attitudes and interest groups of individual member states - specifically, Germany, France and Poland - along with overarching institutional arrangements to understand the Union’s policies and strategies in the road to Paris. Findings will be complemented by opinion pieces on official EU publications, as well as background calls with Union officers.

The project is supported by IES director Dr. Kurt Hübner and UBC’s Faculty of Arts through the Work Learn International Undergraduate Research Award.

-Raul Scorza, Undergraduate Research Assistant

In 2009, the EU arrived to COP15 with a vision of a robust climate agreement, only to see it fade into an Accord that failed to meet firm measures outlined in its negotiation position.

This working paper explores the causes behind the debacle from a European perspective, and argues that five key lessons derived from the EU’s Copenhagen experience can help answer a crucial question: how will the EU achieve a successful summit in Paris, where an altered climate negotiations regime still bears some similarities to the past?

RESF WP - EU, Copenhagen, Paris

With only a few weeks left for COP21, the EU recently made headlines thanks to the findings of a European Environment Agency (EEA) report published on October 20. The report concludes the Union is “on track” to meet the targets outlined in its ‘20/20/20’ climate and energy package. This covers a 20% greenhouse emissions reduction below 1990 levels, a 20% share of renewable energy sources and a 20% reduction in energy consumption – all by 2020.

EEA predicts the EU may reduce emissions below 1990 levels by 24% by 2020 with its current policies. The Agency further noted that estimated reductions presented by member states for 2014 amounted to 23% cuts below 1990 levels. “This is a very good signal ahead of the Paris Climate Conference”, said DG Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete in a statement. “Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen every year in the last decade […] our policies work”.

The EU’s achievement is admirable, but it is important to remember that this aggregate success rests upon an uneven foundation, both in terms of structure and implementation.

Member states unanimously adopted the EU Effort Sharing Decision (ESD), consenting to differentiated national emissions targets for sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). Varying ESD targets, ranging from a 20% reduction for wealthy states to a 20% increase for poor states whose economic growth is expected to be linked with rising emissions, would combine to result in an EU-wide emissions decline in line with the 20/20/20 framework.

EEA acknowledges that the compliance of several ex-Soviet member states with their national targets may be attributed to the fact that the targets “do not actually require absolute reductions in GHG emissions or energy consumption, but only relative ‘limitation’ efforts”.

Admittedly, the targets were designed to set a ceiling on emissions compared to ‘business as usual’ in all member states. This design means that reduction policies are required across the board. It does not, however, entail uniform effectiveness at a national level.

EEA’s report highlights this underlying disparity by indicating that the “projected achievements of the majority of Member States offset the slower progress projected in a few Member States”. Austria, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg, according to the Agency’s analysis, are not on track to meet their national emissions targets under the ESD. The report insinuates that the issues facing these four nations may be technical, as with the capacity for deploying renewables, or economic, as in the case of Luxembourg’s comparatively lower fuel taxes.

The obstacles besetting these member states are pertinent to the uncertainty surrounding future emissions reductions, which are predicted to slow down after 2020 due to insufficient measures. EEA recognizes that under present and currently planned national policies, member states will fail to meet the most recent emissions target assumed by the EU in its new 2030 Energy Strategy: a 40% reduction compared to 1990 levels by 2030.

This ‘40/30’ target is a key component of the EU’s negotiation position for Paris, expressed in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution submitted in March 2015. If the EU is to be credibly committed for COP21, it must address the predicted shortfall. The Union is preparing to do so by discussing a series of policies, including the reform of the ETS and a post-2020 EDS, in light of the 2030 Energy Strategy. In late November, days before the start of the COP, Energy Ministers from across the EU will convene to discuss the governance mechanisms overseeing the Strategy.

Results from that meeting, and more generally, the manner in which the EU decides to approach national targets, plans and the uncertainty of a 40% reduction, will inform the Union’s stance in Paris. As Commissioner Cañete conceded, “the post-2020 targets, our 2030-40%, will be much more difficult […] but we are already working on newer legislation to reach the most ambitious targets”.

With articles from EurActiv, The Guardian and Energy Post.

Trends and projections in Europe 2015

From October 19 to 23 2015, international negotiators met for a second time in Bonn, Germany, to discuss a draft text agreement prepared for COP21. The document, drafted by the co-chairs of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action and released on October 5, trimmed more than 90 pages of lengthy compromises achieved earlier in the year to 20 pages of core text. As the co-chairs pointed out, Bonn was meant to intensify “the pace of text-based negotiations among parties, with a view to preparing the draft Paris climate package for presentation at the opening of COP21”.

Dramatically reducing the text vexed the G77 + China group, a critical negotiating bloc made up of developing countries. Perceiving an “unbalanced text” which lacked their input, especially concerning the financing of climate mitigation and adaptation, the group and other parties re-inserted positions held even before compromises were reached. Further, negotiators vigorously debated over the term ‘decarbonisation’ being included in the agreement. The word’s ambiguous meaning and directive split developing and developed nations alike, as it weaved in and out of the text. These issues can partly explain why Bonn produced a ‘final’ draft agreement consisting of more than 50 pages of differing options and ideas.

Such a package spells out the difficult mission facing negotiators, as some observers wonder if the ghost of Copenhagen is back to haunt climate summits. In particular, the discussions in Bonn reflect challenges specific to the EU that must be overcome in December. Whether these challenges stifle the Union’s involvement or serve as channels to drive its key priorities will be up to how the EU addresses them.

Consider the matter of climate finance. Researchers in the Brussels think-tank Bruegel concluded that strongly committing to financing mitigation measures is the best way for the EU to secure a robust deal in Paris. The Union already supplies more than half of the total amount of resources provided by (UNFCCC) Annex II countries to climate finance mechanisms, including the Green Climate Fund and multilateral development banks. Added to the fact the EU’s absolute emissions are projected to dwindle compared to those of the US and China, ‘prime-supplier’ status makes finance an attractive avenue for the Union to help steer international agreements.

However, enthusiasm on a strong finance approach may not be shared by EU officials. The Polish Institute of International Affairs notes that Union “leaders are not ready to pledge any additional funds before the Paris conference”. More tellingly, the EU has prompted financially mid-tier countries to contribute to the costs of mitigation. In Bonn, Elina Bardram, with DG Climate Action, said “the donor base can be broader”.

Turn to decarbonisation next. The contested term has strained the Union before. In September 2015, the EU Environment Council met to lay out the official negotiation position that the Union adopted for COP21. In addition to its flagship ‘40% by 2030’ pledge, the Council Conclusions promoted “transformative pathways” and “climate neutrality”. This phrasing effectively replaced the word “decarbonisation”, which had been explicitly favoured by French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a previous G7 declaration. The European aversion of the term resurfaced in Bonn, where EU delegates resisted an American suggestion to reintroduce the word into negotiations.

Poland, who produces approximately 90% of its electricity through coal, can be largely credited as the architect behind the European apprehension of decarbonisation. Climate analyst Alden Meyer of Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists says “decarbonisation makes it very clear that you cannot continue to rely on coal as a major source of energy. Poland is rejecting that”. Polish officials themselves are keen to recognize their participation in the abandonment of the term. Marcin Korolec, climate envoy for Poland to the Environment Council meeting, told reporters ‘pathways’ and ‘neutrality’ had been a “Polish formulation”, arguing that both terms accommodate the production of CO2, as long as it is kept out of the atmosphere via carbon capture technology and forestry.

The EU can appropriately meet the above challenges. This optimism is justified by its seemingly sincere adherence to a ‘flexible but ambitious’ stance. Notice how the Union’s previous championing of a strict, legally binding agreement has been modified given the political landscape in the lead up to Paris. DG Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete says the EU “would like to have a binding agreement”, but grants “the UN needs unanimity […] we cannot make the mistakes we made in Kyoto”. Favouring flexibility over rigidity can facilitate the room necessary for the EU to collaborate with parties in addressing divisive issues like finance and decarbonisation.

With files  from Eur Activ, CleanTechnica, Bruegel, The Polish Institute of International Affairs, Energy Post, The Guardian, BBC, Climate Home and ENB.

EU Commissioner: Political Push needed to bring climate talks to next level

There are less than twenty days left for the inauguration of COP21. Analysing the position of individual member states will help contextualize the European Union’s negotiation stance in Paris. A starting point for this analysis is the nation home to the self-styled “climate chancellor” and the controversial Energiewende, or ‘energy transition’: Germany.

In the wake of the Kyoto Protocol, Germany was tasked in 1998 with one of the steepest greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the EU, 21% compared to 1990 levels in the 2008 to 2012 period, to contribute to the Union’s common 8% reduction over the same. Germany met its target, devised as part of the EU burden sharing agreement, in 2008.

Academics disagree on the main driver behind this achievement. Some maintain that the substantial decline of the energy-intensive East German industry after reunification in the 90s accounted for a large drop in GHG emissions1, yielding “wall-fall profits”. Others insist the drop was primarily due to policies previously implemented by the ‘red-green’ alliance of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who set in motion an “ecological modernisation” that fostered innovation and investment in renewable energy, an ecological tax reform and reduction targets by sector2.

Building on the momentum of the Schröder government, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in 2007 an even more ambitious target: Germany would seek to reduce its emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2020, regardless of the actions of other states. After the Kyoto milestone, the economic downturn of the global recession further reduced German emissions in 2009. The following year, the Merkel administration released its ‘Energy Concept Plan’ to bring about “a high level of energy security, effective environmental and climate protection and the provision of an economically viable energy supply”.

The ‘Energy Concept’ contained two critical elements: first, its emphasis on renewables as the “cornerstone” for German energy supply and second, its treatment of nuclear power in the country’s energy portfolio. Originally, the ‘Concept’ would extend the lifespan of nuclear plants until 2022. This decision was met with public opposition, damaging the “green credentials” of Chancellor’s Merkel traditionally pro-nuclear CDU party, and ultimately reversed in light of the Fukushima plant disaster of March 2011.

Only a few months after the Japanese catastrophe, Chancellor Merkel’s government unveiled its Energiewende strategy. The transition would terminate nuclear power generation by 2022 while reaffirming the country’s commitment to its 40% target. This fixed the responsibility for deep emissions cuts on renewables, a fact that the government acknowledged by also committing to have at least 80% of electricity supply derive from renewable sources by 2050.

Defenders of the Energiewende point to two successes. The strategy has presided over an impressive increase of renewables in Germany’s power mix. In 2014, renewables generated approximately 26% of the country’s power, up from an estimated 7% in 2001. Further, the Energiewende has been instrumental in driving down the price of renewable power sources – wind and solar in particular. The price of the former has halved, while the price of the latter has fallen by more than 80%. Both developments have molded the international perception of Germany as a paragon of renewable energy.

Central to the Energiewende’s renewables success is a policy that can be traced back to Chancellor Schröder: a feed-in tariff scheme where producers that provide renewable-generated electricity to the public grid are paid a fixed rate over 20 years and enjoy priority grid access. Critics of the energy transition highlight two detrimental consequences of the tariff.

Electricity consumers, such as private households and businesses, are experiencing a marked increase in prices. Consumers pay the sum of the tariff minus the revenue of excess renewable electricity traded in the European Energy Exchange, a total labeled EEG-surcharge. As the amount of renewables producers on a fixed rate scheme rises, the surcharge rises alongside them. The burden on private consumers is exacerbated by the fact that several thousand businesses have applied for surcharge reductions or exemptions, transferring their costs onto households.

Additionally, by incentivizing the development of renewables and prioritizing their access to the grid, the tariff has led to a sharp decrease in the price of all electricity in the wholesale market. The wholesale price drop has eroded the profits of utility companies that invested in natural gas power plants, making them economically unfeasible. Germany will still have to deal with the current reality of renewable energy, especially wind and solar – it is not perfectly reliable. This shortcoming means fossil-fuel sources are still needed for back up power, but ironically, the undercutting of natural gas guided utility companies towards more emissions-intensive yet cost-effective lignite and hard coal. Strikingly low prices for emissions trading allowances under the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) failed to correct for coal’s competitive advantage.

The extent of coal’s ‘renaissance’ in Germany was initially debated by observers, but the country’s growing coal-fueled electricity was evident. Power generated by coal rose in 2011, 2012 and 2013, contributing to three consecutive years of GHG emissions growth. By July 2014, the trend was alarming enough for the German environment ministry to declare that if ‘business-as-usual’ prevailed, the country would fall short of its 2020 emissions reduction target by an estimated 7%.

Chancellor Merkel put into force a new Climate Action Programme in December 2014 to address the so-called ‘climate gap’. The Programme pledged to cut German emissions by the equivalent of an additional 2% over the next five years and expected the majority of cuts to come from the power sector. Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel championed the introduction of a “climate fee” at the outset of the Programme to achieve these cuts. Minister Gabriel’s fee would involve a cap on emissions in the power sector. This would force the most polluting utility providers to purchase additional ETS certificates, lowering coal’s competitiveness.

Yet the undeniable political strength of groups protecting the interests of coal in Germany became visible in a widespread campaign against Minister Gabriel’s fee. Groups included utility companies, (RWE, Vattenfall Europe, Mibrag) labour organizations (Industrial Mining, Chemistry and Energy Union), representatives of states with lignite power plants (Saxony and Brandenburg) and even members within Chancellor Merkel’s CDU party. After tense negotiations in July 2015, the powerful coalition eventually pressured Minister Gabriel to walk away from his climate fee vision.

Instead of the fee, negotiations resulted in a plan that would see the government compensate utility providers to place coal-fueled plants on standby, creating an ‘emergency reserve supply’ over the next few years before the plants are closed altogether. The plan seeks to remove 13% of Germany’s lignite capacity, setting the country back on the path towards its emissions goals. “Ultimately, we will deliver the […] reduction, but at a higher cost”, conceded Minister Gabriel. Private consumers will foot half of the bill alongside the federal government, which is estimated to be about $2.2 to $3.3 billion per year.

Environmental groups, once crucial to Germany’s ecological modernisation in the 90s, expressed their disappointment over the government’s capitulation. “Chancellor Merkel has broken her promise to get serious about decarbonisation”, said Tobias Münchmeyer with Greenpeace Germany. Barbara Unmüßig, board member of the green think-tank Heinrich Böll Foundation, said “German Chancellor Merkel wants to be a role model on climate protection. But that won’t work if, despite the Energiewende, Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions keep rising from coal-fired power generation”.

Will Germany’s coal conundrum tarnish its ‘climate champion’ persona when it arrives to COP21? Is it possible that the country’s emissions difficulties will compromise its ability to pursue a strong climate deal along fellow EU member states during negotiations? This is not likely. Karsten Sach, a high-ranking official and veteran negotiator with Germany’s Environment Ministry, reminds observers that the country has been essential in brokering “ambitious decisions, like the G7 commitment to decarbonizing the global economy over the course of the century”.

Large ambitions may, however, pose a small risk to coordinating a unified EU position. Discord within could lead to a replay of the Copenhagen debacle. This is why Professor Reimund Schwarze at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research insists that while the country will play a “minor” role in Paris, the main “objective for Germany is to keep the European Union together and make sure that it acts as one and is visible as a strong negotiating partner”.

Still, it would be no surprise to see other negotiators flock to the German delegation, and Chancellor Merkel in particular, to formulate environmental solutions prior to and during the meeting. Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute has noted “there is an expectation in the lead up to Paris and during the summit that she [Chancellor Merkel] will invest a lot of her personal capital to make it a success”. The Chancellor is doing just that, as she finishes hosting another leader facing influential coal interests, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to discuss the climate among other topics. The Prime Minister’s visit symbolizes Germany’s potential to steer the EU into a serious negotiating position, as long as all member states are on the same boat.

1. Thomas Schomerus. “German climate and energy legislation: an ambitious but fragmented framework”. In Climate Law in EU Member States eds. Marjan Peeters, Mark Stallworthy, Javier de Cendra de Larragán. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2012.

2. Martin Jänicke. “German climate change policy: political and economic leadership”. In The European Union as a Leader in International Climate Change Politics eds. Rüdiger K.W. Wurzel, James Connelly. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011.

COP21 is upon us. Taking a closer look at member states involved in this monumental summit will provide context for the European Union’s stance during negotiations. The analysis continues by turning to the nation hosting the proceedings, one with its own marque of energy transition and aspirations for climate leadership: France.

France’s unique approach to climate policy, at a domestic and international level, has its roots in decisions made more than 40 years ago. In the 1960s, the country began to extensively invest first in hydroelectric and later nuclear infrastructure for power generation. Despite these investments, the oil shocks of the 1970s placed enough pressure on France’s energy sector for the government to introduce stringent energy efficiency regulations, fuel taxes and schemes to diversify fuel sources for electricity, including a directive to substantially speed-up the nuclear power programme1.

The policy package was a resounding success. Compared to 1974, when coal and oil still accounted for an estimated 60 percent of power generation, by the late 1990s France derived approximately 90 percent of its electricity from largely carbon-neutral sources: around 75 percent from nuclear and 15 percent from hydro. But why was France not widely crowned a ‘climate champion’ by fellow nations? This title was not granted because France’s policies and political discourse were at the time not concerned with international climate stewardship, but energy security and independence. The fact that policies addressing these concerns ‘just-happened’ to result in significant emissions reductions in the energy sector – a drop of 23 percent between 1980 and 1990 – framed France into an “inadvertent pioneer”2.

The ‘inadvertent’ quality of France’s stance regarding climate turned into reticence during the negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol. Fear over a loss of competitiveness eclipsed any semblance of leadership. France considered previous reductions placed the country in an uncomfortable position with respect to other member states if additional policies were required to comply with an international climate deal. “The cost of new measures liable to be taken in France”, claimed the French Government, “will often be higher than in other countries of the European Union or the OECD”3.

France failed to convince other parties to institute global carbon taxation, ensuring consistency in the cost of action, prior to Kyoto being agreed to in 1997. However, the country managed to make a compelling case for its past actions being sufficient when discussing the EU burden sharing agreement to meet the Protocol. France would have to stabilise its emissions at the equivalent of 1990 levels, or approximately 550 MtCO2e, for the 2008 to 2012 period. This was a far cry in terms of ambition compared to the commitments made by other member states, especially Germany’s 21 percent cuts – which admittedly were facilitated by “wall-fall profits” in addition to an “ecological modernisation” (see Analysis – Germany).

A shift in France’s position on climate became apparent at the start of the 21st century. In the year 2000, the French Government’s own projections estimated the country would miss its stabilisation target by 25 percent due to rapid economic growth4. In response, the Jacques Chirac-Lionel Jospin administration drafted the 2000 Climate Plan, which included emissions trading and carbon taxation mechanisms. Ambitious as it was, the Plan was rejected because the carbon tax was found to be inequitable and thus unconstitutional. Following the Plan’s failure, Prime Minister Jospin was succeeded by Jean-Pierre Raffarin in 2002. The new Chirac-Rafarrin government redoubled its climate initiatives, and after two years of political debate, secured a 2004 Climate Plan that proposed modest but effective emissions improvements across a variety of sectors.

President Chirac capped these efforts by announcing France would commit itself to achieving a fourfold reduction in emissions between 1990 and 2050, or a 75 percent cut by 2050. The commitment was enshrined into law with the passing of the 2005 Energy Bill. Despite Chirac’s impressive target, such a strong and long-term vision sat oddly with France’s reluctant stabilisation strategy. Regardless, the Chirac period was essential in buttressing the country’s newfound climate leadership aims with concrete policy examples. This vision would be carried forward by incoming President Nicholas Sarkozy, whose diplomatic strategy influenced France’s approach to climate negotiations.

President Sarkozy was vital to coordinating two major climate proposals during his term in office.

The first was the EU-wide “Climate and Energy Package” in 2008, best known for its ‘20/20/20’ framework (see Working Paper – The EU, Copenhagen). Sarkzoy, through France’s Presidency of the European Council from July to December of 2008, was instrumental to brokering an agreement in the winter of that same year5. The second proposal was created on the sidelines of the Copenhagen COP15 summit in 2009. Sarkozy’s administration fashioned a ‘Climate Justice Plan’ to enable massive financial aid for the adaptation of countries at extreme risk of climate change. The Justice Plan was also intended to provide a position around which countries could rally, with Sarkozy hosting and attending talks with parties. Talks included Brazil, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, China and India.

Sarkozy’s plan and its finance-oriented stance, as opposed to his successful climate and energy package labors, fell flat with negotiators in Copenhagen. Yet Sarkozy’s expenditure of extensive diplomatic capital has been mirrored by current President François Hollande, despite the latter’s disagreements with the former on a number of issues.

Subsequent to the announcement of France meeting and exceeding its Kyoto stabilisation target in 2010, the Fukushima plant disaster of 2011 exacerbated the bitter opposition on nuclear policy between an incumbent Sarkozy and then-candidate Hollande in the 2012 presidential elections. During a crucial televised debate, Sarkozy called nuclear power a “French asset” that provided electricity at a rate 35 percent cheaper than in Germany. Hollande responded by saying France suffered a “double dependence” – one on oil and the other on nuclear. He pledged on live television to reduce nuclear electricity production from 75 percent at the time to 50 percent by 2050.

Ultimately, Hollande capitalized on the French public’s apprehension towards nuclear power after Fukushima and the support of the traditionally anti-nuclear Green party6. Both helped propel him into office in May 2012. President Hollande’s televised promise on nuclear was the first inkling of France’s new energy transition. Attending an environmental conference in September 2012, Hollande reiterated his commitment to lower nuclear power generation and added his support to a 40 percent emissions reductions by 2030 below 1990 levels, EU-wide.

While his stance on nuclear proved popular with the electorate, it elicited challenges from those aligned with historically-entrenched nuclear interests. A former prominent employee of the main (and mostly nuclear) utility provider, EDF, hinted that Hollande's promise was more political than environmental in nature by saying, "these people will be judged in 2080 for acting in their own interest instead of that of the planet".

The Hollande administration pressed on by calling for a national debate on the proposed energy transition. France’s struggle with high unemployment and a sluggish economy, as well as the looming costs associated with the upkeep of its aging nuclear plants, figured prominently in the discussion.

Consensus arrived when the lower house of the French Parliament passed the Energy Transition for Green Growth Act on October 2014. It outlined numerous and aggressive targets for the country: Hollande's '50 by 2025' nuclear vision, an increase in the share of renewables of 30 percent by 2030, a cut in the consumption of fossil-fuels of almost one third by 2030 and a decrease in energy demand of one half by 2050 compared to 2012 levels. The bill also set France’s own emissions reduction targets in line with the ’40 by 2030’ EU INDC.

Its final form was adopted in July 2015, after the Senate controversially grappled over the ’50 by 2025’ target on nuclear electricity production - with some referring to the discussion as a lobbying battle between nuclear and wind power representatives - and included an amendment to quadruple France’s existing carbon tax on fossil-fuel use by 2020.

Even before it had the bill in tow to present as ‘leadership by example’, the Hollande government had embarked on a Sarkozy-style diplomatic campaign ahead of COP21. Its ‘special envoy on the planet’ met with Moscow officials in an attempt to guide Russia towards a more climate friendly stance in May. But in a landmark development, President Hollande met with President Xi Jinping of China on November 2nd, 2015 and secured an agreement to push together at COP21 for an international deal that includes a mechanism to review emissions reductions every five years. The agreement essentially aligns China with the EU’s negotiation position, as the latter considers a review mechanism integral to its stance.

France’s diplomatic outpouring has not come without its setbacks. In mid-November, only weeks before COP21, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview that the agreement product of the summit would not be a legally-binding treaty, nor would it set “legally binding reduction targets”. Balking at Secretary Kerry’s comments, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius implied his American counterpart might have been “confused” and Hollande himself said “if the agreement is not legally binding, there won’t be an agreement”. The argument came to a close on November 28, when Minister Fabius retracted the French standpoint on the ‘treaty’ designation and legally binding reduction targets. Fabius agreed with observers when pointing out the designation “poses a big problem for President Barack Obama because a treaty has to pass through Congress”.

France’s concession sheds a light on its role at COP21 and its relation with the EU. Standing down from its position evidences the fact that top emitters like the U.S. are the real players in present climate negotiations. Minister Fabius conceded “it would be pointless to come up with an accord that would eventually be rejected by either China or the US”. Still, it demonstrates a willingness to be flexible in order to accommodate a deal. Further, France’s diplomacy was fundamental in getting China, the largest emitter in the world, to pursue a reductions review mechanism. Hollande’s administration will most likely play a key role in coordinating other parties to converge on the EU stance on the mechanism, brokering compromises on finance being attached to its support or discussions on whether the mechanism itself should be binding or voluntary.

1, 4, 5. Joseph Szarka. “France’s troubled bids to climate leadership”. In The European Union as a Leader in International Climate Change Politics eds. Rüdiger K.W. Wurzel, James Connelly. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011.

  1. Joseph Szarka. “From inadvertent to reluctant pioneer? Climate strategies and policy style in France”. Climate Policy 5 no. 6 (2006) 627-638.
  1. Joseph Szarka. “Climate Policy in France: Between National Interest and Global Solidarity?” Politique européenne 1 no. 33 (2011) 155-183.
  1. Mycle Schneider. “France’s great energy debate”. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 69 no. 1(2013) 27-35.

COP 21 has kicked off, and a review of the individual positions of member states will enable a more complete understanding of the European Union’s negotiation stance. This research project’s analysis will conclude by examining a nation that has been typically colored a pragmatist at best or a dissenter at worst: Poland.

Poland’s climate policies and strategies operate in a national context that is indebted to the economic consequences of its Communist past, especially in its energy sector. The Communist government prioritized energy self-reliance and the development of a heavily industrial economy, resulting in the massive expansion of centralized, coal-based energy1. Even after Poland’s shift into a market economy in 1989, coal has consistently generated at least 85 percent of the country’s electricity and accounted for more than half of its primary energy supply to date. Why did Poland’s socioeconomic transformation not bring about a similar transition in its energy sector?

The fall of Communism in Poland brought with it an acute economic collapse, as the closing of state-owned enterprises lowered the nation’s GDP and caused the unemployment rate to swell. Poland’s post-Communist administration considered the situation too strenuous to add the costs of renovating its energy, and by association, coal sectors. In fact, the Polish government provided coal mines and power plants with subsidies, prolonged contracts and tax exemptions2. It is essential to note that the same collapse of heavy industry that led to social and economic malaise also resulted in a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. From 1988 to 1991, emissions fell by 100 million tonnes of CO2e3.

Following a continued drop in emissions, and coinciding with discussions on the text for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Poland embraced its first National Environmental Policy in 19914. The policy was the first political document in Poland to explicitly refer to climate action and emissions concerns. Polish law does not make these kinds of political documents legally binding, but they do have a key role in shaping policy. The country then adopted a second National Environmental Policy in the year 2000. It departed from the first policy in advocating a ‘rational’ use of the environment to address climate change, but only suggested lowering energy consumption and improving the uptake of renewable energy sources5.

2003 marked the year in which Poland unveiled its flagship political text. Poland’s Climate Policy: Strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Poland until 2020 set out to align Polish initiatives with global efforts to tackle climate change6. The document called for improvements in energy efficiency, industrial, forest and soil resources and waste disposal. Most notably, Poland’s Climate Policy outlined ambitious targets to reduce emissions by 30 percent compared to 1988 levels by 2010 and 40 percent by 2020. However, the aforementioned drop in emissions prompted by Poland’s economic transition meant that by early 2003, Poland had already met this first target and surpassed its Kyoto Protocol target (6 percent reduction, 1998 baseline).

Past reductions allowed Poland to easily comply with obligations not only at an international level. When Poland was in the process of negotiating its accession into the EU, its “fall profits” enabled the country to smoothly comply with Union climate directives. This ease was compromised when the EU introduced the Emissions Trading System (ETS) in late 2003. Poland adopted the ETS into law after its accession in 2004, but had to wait two full years to make the system functional. The wait was largely attributed to the fact that the ETS directive did not specify how nations that had already reduced their emissions considerably, as Poland had, would operate within its new framework7.

A disagreement between the European Commission and Poland over the distribution of ETS allowances had taken place, with the Commission arguing that Poland’s preference for more allowances would eventually lead to a drop in the price of carbon, threatening the objective of the system. With discussions continuing into 2007, Poland became increasingly wary of EU intervention in climate policy, and the ETS mechanism in particular. Coal-based businesses successfully lobbied the Polish Government against this ‘complicated’ and ‘vague’ instrument, which they predicted would undermine national interests, from then on.

Poland’s protection of its interests, as shaped by the composition of its energy sector, came to a head during negotiations of the EU ‘climate and energy’ package. Poland resisted the original European Commission proposal, defending two amendments: first, derogate the entrance of countries with more than 50 percent of coal-based electricity and heat production; and second, granting the energy sector free emissions rights in 2013 equivalent to 80 percent of real emissions, which would then decline to 0 percent by 20208. Observers were split as to whether Poland was being intransigent or realistic, but agreed that Polish politicians were primarily concerned with a trade-off between economic performance and tackling climate change.

Heavy emitters consisting of thirteen trade and industry organizations demonstrated their political strength by coalescing into the ‘Green Effort Group’, which managed to convince Polish officials to effectively represent their position during the package negotiations9. In addition, Poland became the main coordinator of a bloc comprising the three other Visegrad nations (Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) and three Baltic states (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania).

The bloc achieved an important victory during negotiations when it managed to move the final decision on the 2008 package from the Environmental Council – where decisions are arrived at through a qualified majority vote – to the European Council, which requires unanimity. Again, observers did not agree on whether the bloc, and Poland specifically, sabotaged the package or enabled a compromise all, especially nations that had already achieved emissions reductions at a high socioeconomic price, could agree to.

With typical ambivalence, Poland carved its strategy in the run up to the 2009 COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen. The country lent its support for the EU-wide 20 percent emissions reduction by 2020 target. Poland did, however, express its reservations against the more ambitious, conditional-only 30 percent by 2020 EU target. The country also objected to contributing financial support for the adaptation efforts of the world’s most vulnerable nations to climate change. Regardless, the Union adopted a strong approach during the proceedings – a stance that may have contributed to its inability to convince other parties to follow suit (see Working Paper – The EU, Copenhagen). After the summit’s conclusion, the Polish Government released Poland’s Energy Policy until 2030, where it recommended increasing the share of renewable energy by 15 percent in 2020, but also pledged to modernise and therefore keep its coal power plants.

The past ambiguity surrounding its position with regards to climate, markedly conditioned by its still coal-dependent energy sector, has followed Poland into the present. Polish officials succeeded in convincing the EU to drop ‘decarbonisation’ from the climate and energy package that would inform its official negotiating stance for COP21 in 2014 (see Opinion – Bonn Wraps Up). The remarkable success of conservative candidates affiliated with the Law and Justice (PiS) party in presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015 appear to have revived concerns with coal supremacy and energy independence (Poland currently relies on Russia to provide almost 90 percent of its oil and natural gas).

In turn, these concerns have sparked anxiety over a unified EU position at COP21. Failure to present a coherent group may entail a debacle similar to Copenhagen. Prior to the victory of his party in Parliament, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński called for an expansion in power plants, and referring to the EU’s model climate package for COP21, said “renegotiation is needed. We should not have agreed to that, it could have been vetoed”.

Only a few days after PiS’s landslide results, President Andrzej Duda refused to support a Post-Kyoto amendment that would require Poland to further reduce its emissions. Duda claimed the measure’s economic and social impact were not “sufficiently explained”, a move that analysts say “stalls the ratification process” for the EU. Frustrated with obstacles to climate policy like these, one Green MEP said “at least they [Poland] shouldn’t constantly stand in the way of European efforts”.

Experts have tried to assure other parties that Poland is not in a position to credibly reshape EU climate commitments at COP21, given that the official Union position has already been bindingly adopted by the Council of Ministers. Further, qualified majority voting changes to be enacted in 2017 will mean Poland will require more support to push for its policy preferences, which analysts have labeled as “posturing”. Yet recently, Piotr Naimski, Polish MP who will likely become Minister of Energy, said of the potential climate deal “for Poland, the road is not signing that document”.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, representing Poland at COP21’s heads of state meeting, has been quoted as saying “there will be no concrete climate protection goals in the European Council on her watch” and “for me there is no doubt that the Polish economy has no future without Polish coal”. But contrary to PiS party-line, PM Szydlo has also been quoted as being comfortable with the summit ending in a deal and saying “the EU’s position for climate talks in Paris is acceptable to coal-using Poland”. Additionally, in her speech at the opening of COP21, Szydlo pledged $8 million by 2020 to the Green Climate Fund, departing from a resistance to providing funding demonstrated in Copenhagen.

What to make of Polish ambiguity? A number of observers have critically pointed out that Poland remains adverse to EU climate and energy goals, but will probably not use COP21 as a forum where opposition may scuttle an international agreement. Only the start of negotiations will spell out for certain if Poland is serious in its commitment to a deal being secured by supporting a common EU position, or if the PiS’s more rebellious stance will emerge in Paris.

1, 2, 3, 9. Zbigniew M. Karaczun. “Poland and climate change: Analysis of Polish climate policy 1988-2010”. International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs 20 No. 1, (2011) 49-69.

4, 6, 7.  Leszek Karski. “Climate law in Poland: towards an overall regulation”. In Climate Law in EU Member States eds. Marjan Peeters, Mark Stallworthy, Javier de Cendra de Larragán. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2012. 

5, 8.  Karolina Jankowska. “Poland’s climate change policy struggle”. In The European Union as a Leader in International Climate Change Politics eds. Rüdiger K.W. Wurzel, James Connelly. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011.

*Note – This piece refers to key findings of the research project discussed in length above.

Day 2 of COP21 is underway, and with the shift into the actual negotiations comes a wave of hope and trepidation.

Hope rides on the back of unprecedented numbers of activists taking to the streets in climate marches all around the globe, an unprecedented level and degree of engagement by (both self-interested and altruistic) businesses, and an unprecedented call for action by heads of states.

Trepidation, on the other hand, stems from an age-old but very current adage: the devil is, and always will be, in the details.

If optimism is driving negotiations towards an agreement, what shape should it take? Should it be a legally-binding treaty or a deal with only certain clauses being binding? If one of those clauses includes a mechanism to review the progress towards each country’s INDC, should the mechanism be legally enforceable or voluntary? And if adoption of that mechanism is contingent on financial support being provided to those who need help in weaning their economies of carbon and adapting to climate change, who will supply how much to whom?

These are some of the questions negotiators will have to answer in Paris. A related question this research project has tried to answer is how the European Union fits in this negotiating context, and to what extent do member states impact that position.

‘Lead negotiator’ of the EU, Miguel Arias Cañete, outlined three main points that the Union will want to include in an agreement: a long-term goal to properly guide adjustments of current and future climate actions, a (5-year) review mechanism to incrementally “raise the collective ambition”, and a robust and transparent system of rules for this mechanism to foster accountability. Note there is no mention of  a “legally binding international treaty”, which figured prominently in the EU’s professed position prior to the summit.

Already have Germany and France corroborated some findings of this project, which may translate into both being instrumental in convincing other parties to support the EU points.

The “climate chancellor” Angela Merkel has set herself up to be the strong linchpin between developed and developing countries, saying “industrialized countries, in regard to the development of technologies, will have to take the lead. The emissions of the past have been caused by us, so we have to be at the vanguard”.

President François Hollande, in a move reminiscent of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Climate Justice Plan, added to his list of grand diplomatic efforts by throwing his full support behind India’s International Solar Alliance. “Climate justice, as Prime Minister Modi has called it, must be our aim…not just in Asia, but also for all Africa”, said Hollande. “And France is mobilising financing at this conference and the use of technology to be shared”.

Poland has also stayed in line with the findings of the present research. Despite vitriolic opposition against an agreement being levelled by members of the party in government, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo expects an agreement to be reached – just one that complies with two conditions, the second of which may give the EU pause: “Firstly, we want the accord to be signed by all countries. The EU can not be the only entity burdened with costs and responsibilities”, and more controversially, the agreement should accommodate the individual interests of signatory states, seeing that “the Polish economy needs to be protected”.

The thesis of this project holds. Despite the EU negotiating as a bloc, examining the individual stances of member states can provide a more complete picture of the Union’s position, a position that will be impacted by the undertakings of its members – the aforementioned three in particular. Their decisions will affect how the EU responds to the opposing forces of hope and trepidation.