Copenhagen to Cancun

The gen­er­al view in Ire­land was that both the organ­i­sa­tion and the out­come of the Copen­hagen cli­mate change con­fer­ence was unsat­is­fac­to­ry. Frank McDon­ald of The Irish Times, among oth­er Irish jour­nal­ists, described the huge con­fer­ence venue as “bed­lam”.11Irish Times: Cli­mate talks venue becomes hot­house as key debate looms, 14 Decem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2009/1214/1224260654343.html?via=rel (last access: 18 May 2010). The Taoiseach, Bri­an Cowen, expressed dis­ap­point­ment at the out­come, stat­ing that “[t]he sub­stance of the Euro­pean Union’s [offers] was robust­ly put, but we couldn’t get the com­mit­ment of oth­ers.” He added that “we did not achieve every­thing we want­ed, but the real­i­ty is that this is as much as can be advanced at this stage.”22Report­ed in the Guardian: Copen­hagen: The last-ditch dra­ma that saved the deal from col­lapse, avail­able at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/20/copenhagen-climate-global-warming (last access: 18 May 2010). The Min­is­ter for the Envi­ron­ment, John Gorm­ley (Green Par­ty), described the Copen­hagen Accord itself as “under­whelm­ing”, stat­ing that its only advan­tage was that it “keeps the process alive” until the next cli­mate change con­fer­ence in Can­cun in Decem­ber 2010. Offi­cials from the Min­is­ter for the Environment’s office speak­ing in con­fi­dence lament­ed the inabil­i­ty of the EU to present a unit­ed front at nego­ti­a­tions and expressed deep dis­ap­point­ment at the out­come. Irish char­i­ties and NGOs also expressed their dis­sat­is­fac­tion, with some blam­ing the EU’s fail­ure to offer a 30 per­cent emis­sions reduc­tion for the col­lapse of the talks. Final­ly, the mood among the gen­er­al pub­lic var­ied between frus­tra­tion and bemusement.

Analy­sis of the out­come by Joseph Curtin, cli­mate pol­i­cy spe­cial­ist at the Insti­tute of Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Affairs, report­ed wide­ly by the Irish media, iden­ti­fied the naivety of the EU’s approach to nego­ti­a­tions, the inabil­i­ty to effec­tive­ly mar­shal and use all instru­ments at its dis­pos­al, the fail­ure to build strate­gic alliances, and the lack of a cen­tral EU nego­tia­tor as key caus­es of the bloc’s poor per­for­mance at what was sup­posed to be the venue of a major dis­play of Euro­pean sol­i­dar­i­ty, vision and pur­pose.33Joseph Curtin: 2010. The Copen­hagen Con­fer­ence: How Should the EU Respond?, avail­able at: http://www.iiea.com/publications/the-copengahen-conference-how-should-the-eu-respond (last access: 18 May 2010).

Irish attitudes

Few con­crete indi­ca­tors exist but anec­do­tal evi­dence and media com­men­tary sug­gest that cli­mate change scep­ti­cism and indif­fer­ence may be on the rise in Ire­land. Doubts about the sci­ence, already exac­er­bat­ed by the recent scan­dals of data manip­u­la­tion and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Essex Cli­mate Research Unit and the UN’s Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change, have been com­pound­ed by the “evi­dence” of an unusu­al­ly icy win­ter, which has served to embold­en the rhetoric of cli­mate change scep­tics.44See for exam­ple Frank Mc Don­ald: Europe must lead the way against cli­mate scep­ti­cism, Irish Times, avail­able at: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0304/1224265557823.html (last access: 18 May 2010).

On a more pos­i­tive note, after years in which Ire­land lagged behind con­ti­nen­tal part­ners when it came to envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness and pol­i­cy, the cur­rent gov­ern­ment – a coali­tion between the dom­i­nant par­ty of Irish pol­i­tics (the cen­tre-right Fian­na Fail) and a much small­er Green Par­ty – is try­ing to prove itself in this are­na, and is doing so very much by ref­er­ence to its Euro­pean part­ners. A recent rene­go­ti­a­tion of the pro­gramme for gov­ern­ment result­ed in con­sid­er­able con­ces­sions to the Green Party’s agen­da and the Irish gov­ern­ment was vocal even before Copen­hagen in sup­port­ing a revi­sion of the agreed 2020 mission’s reduc­tion tar­get from 20 per­cent to 30 per­cent. From an Irish per­spec­tive, the EU’s own cli­mate change pol­i­cy is gen­er­al­ly seen as ade­quate, though there are of course vast dif­fer­ences of opin­ion between, for exam­ple, the envi­ron­men­tal and the busi­ness lobbies.

One area where these two lob­bies often over­lap, and indeed align with gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties, is in that of renew­able ener­gy. The Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Ener­gy and Nat­ur­al Resources, Eamon Ryan (Green Par­ty), believes that Ire­land can become a renew­ables pow­er­house in the post-2020 peri­od by inten­sive­ly devel­op­ing its wind and wave resources, and could ulti­mate­ly be in a posi­tion to export elec­tric­i­ty to Europe.55Ibid.

There is already a lot of com­mer­cial activ­i­ty in this area. One exam­ple is an agree­ment recent­ly signed between the Ener­gia elec­tric­i­ty sup­pli­er and the US-based Ocean Ener­gy Sys­tems, whose wave ener­gy con­vert­er (WEC) is cur­rent­ly being devel­oped off the west coast of Ire­land.66See for exam­ple siliconrepublic.com: Green Tech. Ener­gia takes on Ireland’s wave pow­er, 10 May 2010, avail­able at: http://www.siliconrepublic.com/news/article/16152/green-tech/energia-takes-on-irelands-wave-power (last access: 18 May 2010). Ambi­tious plans also exist in tidal77See for exam­ple siliconrepublic.com: Green Tech. Open­Hy­dro to deploy 200MW tidal ener­gy farm off Scot­land, 16 March 2010, avail­able at: http://www.siliconrepublic.com/news/article/15589/green-tech/openhydro-to-deploy-200mw-tidal-energy-farm-off-scotland (last access: 18 May 2010). and wind88See the Spir­it of Ire­land Web­site, avail­able at: http://www.spiritofireland.org/index.php (last access: 18 May 2010). ener­gy. What these pro­pos­als for trans­form­ing Ireland’s ener­gy infra­struc­ture have in com­mon is that they all depend heav­i­ly on the exis­tence of a next gen­er­a­tion Euro­pean elec­tric­i­ty grid con­nect­ing the continent’s elec­tric­i­ty sup­pli­ers and con­sumers much more effi­cient­ly than has been the case until now. Irish inter­ests will be keen to main­tain a pol­i­cy focus on this goal at the EU lev­el.99See for exam­ple this pre­sen­ta­tion by Eddie O’Connor, of Main­stream Renew­able Pow­er, to the IIEA, avail­able at: http://www.iiea.com/events/the-european-supergrid (last access: 18 May 2010).

Joseph Curtin (of the Insti­tute of Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Affairs (IIEA) and the Sus­tain­able Ener­gy Author­i­ty of Ire­land) argues for the idea that the EU should intro­duce a bor­der adjust­ment tar­iff for coun­tries which are fail­ing to meet emis­sions tar­gets. While a risk of tit-for-tat respons­es lead­ing to trade pro­tec­tion­ism does exist, such a move could prove extreme­ly pow­er­ful as a nego­ti­at­ing tac­tic in talks with third par­ties over a com­pre­hen­sive cli­mate agree­ment. It would also demon­strate clear­ly that the EU is capa­ble of trans­form­ing its eco­nom­ic clout into real polit­i­cal capital.

Ulti­mate­ly, a glob­al agree­ment with­in the Unit­ed Nations Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change (UNFCCC) should be the objec­tive of these nego­ti­a­tions. How­ev­er, so-called “mini-lat­er­al” nego­ti­a­tions (between the EU, the USA, Japan and the BASIC bloc of Chi­na, India, South Africa and Brazil in par­tic­u­lar) may offer more promise ini­tial­ly as they are not beset by the same pro­ce­dur­al obsta­cles as UN negotiations.

The fail­ure of Copen­hagen is read in Ire­land as a fail­ure of EU diplo­ma­cy first and fore­most. More cre­ative avenues may now have to be found. Progress made at fora such as the G20, for exam­ple, might lat­er be pre­sent­ed to UNFCCC for approval. In some cas­es (e.g., China’s alliances with G77) part­ners in strate­gic alliances at Copen­hagen which opposed the EU seemed to have lit­tle in com­mon. The EU needs to learn from such manoeu­vres by cul­ti­vat­ing bilat­er­al rela­tion­ships with a vari­ety of devel­oped and devel­op­ing coun­try part­ners. It must also pri­ori­tise the main­stream­ing of cli­mate change objec­tives into its exter­nal pol­i­cy instru­ments such as its aid, trade and ener­gy programmes.

The Min­is­ter for the Envi­ron­ment has said that devel­op­ing coun­tries argued “strong­ly” in Copen­hagen that they should not be denied devel­op­ment due to glob­al cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures and that Ire­land is will­ing to play its role in con­tribut­ing to EU financ­ing com­mit­ments as required. Although he per­son­al­ly has con­firmed that he wish­es Ireland’s con­tri­bu­tion to be “addi­tion­al” to exist­ing aid com­mit­ments, the gov­ern­ment has yet to offi­cial­ly con­firm that this will be the case. At a time of severe bud­getary tight­en­ing and uncer­tain­ty, this is a cen­tral issue for many of the Irish devel­op­ment and envi­ron­men­tal NGOs active in this area.

    Footnotes

  • 1Irish Times: Cli­mate talks venue becomes hot­house as key debate looms, 14 Decem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2009/1214/1224260654343.html?via=rel (last access: 18 May 2010).
  • 2Report­ed in the Guardian: Copen­hagen: The last-ditch dra­ma that saved the deal from col­lapse, avail­able at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/20/copenhagen-climate-global-warming (last access: 18 May 2010).
  • 3Joseph Curtin: 2010. The Copen­hagen Con­fer­ence: How Should the EU Respond?, avail­able at: http://www.iiea.com/publications/the-copengahen-conference-how-should-the-eu-respond (last access: 18 May 2010).
  • 4See for exam­ple Frank Mc Don­ald: Europe must lead the way against cli­mate scep­ti­cism, Irish Times, avail­able at: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0304/1224265557823.html (last access: 18 May 2010).
  • 5Ibid.
  • 6See for exam­ple siliconrepublic.com: Green Tech. Ener­gia takes on Ireland’s wave pow­er, 10 May 2010, avail­able at: http://www.siliconrepublic.com/news/article/16152/green-tech/energia-takes-on-irelands-wave-power (last access: 18 May 2010).
  • 7See for exam­ple siliconrepublic.com: Green Tech. Open­Hy­dro to deploy 200MW tidal ener­gy farm off Scot­land, 16 March 2010, avail­able at: http://www.siliconrepublic.com/news/article/15589/green-tech/openhydro-to-deploy-200mw-tidal-energy-farm-off-scotland (last access: 18 May 2010).
  • 8See the Spir­it of Ire­land Web­site, avail­able at: http://www.spiritofireland.org/index.php (last access: 18 May 2010).
  • 9See for exam­ple this pre­sen­ta­tion by Eddie O’Connor, of Main­stream Renew­able Pow­er, to the IIEA, avail­able at: http://www.iiea.com/events/the-european-supergrid (last access: 18 May 2010).

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.