Europe Bypassed on Climate Summit

  • Date: 02/12/09

The New York Times: No political entity has pushed harder for the Copenhagen conference on climate change to succeed than the European Union. But just days before the opening of the United Nations-sponsored meeting, the Europeans have been largely pushed to the sidelines, watching as the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States, seek to set the rules of the game.

“That’s of course the unfortunate situation for Copenhagen,” said Jo Leinen, a German member of the European Parliament who is leading the chamber’s delegation to the conference that is intended to follow up on the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol. “It’s turning into a bit of a ping-pong match between China and the United States, with each just looking at the other,” he said.

Europeans say they have gone further than anybody else in moving toward a low-carbon economy that could serve as a model for the rest of the world. But the bloc’s ability to exercise global influence through progressive standards and moral leadership, rather than through superpower status, is facing a key test.

“The E.U. frankly doesn’t have the political clout to determine the outcome at Copenhagen,” said Peter Haas, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. […]

The United States snubbed Kyoto because fast-emerging China and India could grow without facing restrictions on their emissions. But the E.U. sped ahead anyway, developing a plethora of new targets, subsidies and mechanisms to comply with the treaty, including a complicated system to cap carbon dioxide and to trade emissions permits.

Almost overnight, London’s financial district became a global hub for trading in greenhouse gases. Makers of windmills in Denmark flourished. Innovative solar industries sprang up in Germany and Spain.

But the bloc’s most important employers — utilities, car makers and steel and chemical companies — bitterly attacked important aspects of the policy on the ground that it was jeopardizing Europe’s industrial competitiveness.

ArcelorMittal, a giant steelmaker, and Royal Dutch Shell, the oil and gas group, are among companies that have threatened to slow down investment inside the 27-nation bloc unless the rest of the industrialized world, and the United States in particular, adopt similar carbon-capping systems.

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