Continued EU support for a new legally binding global deal on climate change after the Copenhagen debacle in 2009 paid off with solid progress at the Cancún conference.
The 2009 Copenhagen conference on climate change was a diplomatic nightmare for the EU, which was sidelined by the US and major emerging economies. In 2010, the EU – guided by the European Commission – recommitted to its quest for a legally-binding international agreement on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The 2010 follow-up conference to Copenhagen in Cancún took small but significant steps in that direction.
After the Copenhagen debacle, there was significant debate over whether to continue climate talks through a UN framework or the smaller Major Economies Forum (MEF), which largely overlaps with the G20. The EU supported the UN route. EU member states and the Commission broadly met the promises they made in Copenhagen to release “fast-start funding” for climate-related aid to poor states. Critics argued that some of the funding package was badly designed, but it was credited with stimulating other donors to meet their commitments. EU governments could not, however, agree whether to unilaterally increase their carbon-emission reduction targets as an incentive for a global deal, an option that remains on hold.
At the Cancún summit itself, the EU was not always central to negotiations – China and the US proved decisive in many sensitive areas. However, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were reportedly crucial in persuading Japan to shelve contentious questions about the future of the Kyoto Protocol (which is set to lapse in 2012) until a later date. Other member states such as Denmark played important roles in finessing agreements on specific policy issues such as deforestation. Although the Cancún conference resolved very few issues once and for all, the tone of the talks was unexpectedly constructive. This restored optimism that a much broader UN-negotiated deal on climate change is possible and validated the EU’s continued commitment to this option.