The Road to Paris: Injecting hope into the campaign for the climate

Six years after disappointment at Copenhagen, the world is counting down to the next opportunity in Paris


After so many false dawns, what is desperately needed is something to get excited about. As of today, there is light on the horizon.

Members of the European Parliament have voted to adopt a consensus report looking toward the Paris Climate Talks. Mostly, it outlines previously announced European positions on climate change policy in regards to the international process. But key new text adds an option that opens the door to serious progress in Paris, and beyond.

Together, the European Parliament called for Member States to enter voluntary partnerships with developing countries. These ‘international mitigation partnerships’, whereby some rich EU countries would pair up with selected poor developing states in order to enhance their climate change mitigation potential, can increase the ambition of our climate action in areas like reducing tropical deforestation.

What’s really meaningful is that the amendments advocating for ‘international mitigation partnerships’ met with full support from all the political groups in the European Parliament involved in drafting of the final text of the report. This clearly shows a strong political backing from across Europe.

There is an elegant simplicity to the idea: countries can do more to stop climate change by working together, than they can do on their own. Together, developing countries and developed countries should go beyond unilateral domestic commitments to cut climate pollution and work together to develop additional, large-scale collective commitments.

The result would be climate and development benefits, while doing more to stop runaway global warming. The opportunity is enormous. Many developing nations, from Colombia to India and Indonesia, have an abundance of cost-effective opportunities.

With such an approach in mind, the Norwegian and Peruvian governments have created a template for action, by striking a simple and effective bilateral deal on climate and forest mitigation cooperation. Peru has agreed not to cut down its rainforest in exchange for a large sum of money provided from the Norwegian overseas aid budget. Importantly, this money is additional to the existing aid budget.

This country-to-country international mitigation partnership ensures carbon embedded in the Peruvian rainforest stays there and is not released into the atmosphere. In return, Peru gets valuable funds for sustainable development. The Norwegian people support the arrangement and see it as a good use of their public funds. Win-win.

The challenge now is to scale up this initiative and partner more European countries with more countries in the global South that have extensive forest cover.

Making the most of this idea will involve major sums of public money. But we found the money to save the banks, and now we should find the money to save the earth. Experience shows that international aid money is more easily mobilised around specific goals than nebulous concepts, which makes these specific partnerships a saleable political prospect: the people of Europe understand the value of ending climate change and global inequality at the same time.

As it currently stands, the EU’s pledge to cut internal emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 is good but not good enough. Together with other pledges for domestic action from around the world on the negotiating table in Paris, we get about 40 per cent of the way to the reduction needed by 2030 to keep global warming to 2°C.

Asking the major economies to do more at home is ethically justifiable, but it runs afoul of both political and economic reality: cutting carbon tons at home is both politically toxic and extremely expensive. Bigger and cheaper carbon savings are to be found in the Global South. Many developing nations have an abundance of low-cost opportunities to cut climate pollution: since 2005, for example, Brazil alone has cut more carbon pollution than the entire European Union simply by reducing deforestation in the Amazon.

Don’t misunderstand us: the EU most definitely needs to do its bit within its own borders, and as such its feet need to be held to the fire by the UN and by international scrutiny. But there is a clear additional role for the EU to deliver outside its borders and the European Commission should embrace this opportunity: by showing ambition, leading and pulling together a collation of willing European states, who in turn should challenge Japan, USA and Australia to go further.

As politicians we are at our best when we traverse the frontier between the feasible and the fanciful. Too far one way and we deliver but fall short of what is really needed; too far the other way and nothing meaningful is achieved even if we feel a warm moral glow inside.

This practical verses possible dilemma calls for political leadership, and Paris offers the opportunity for the EU to make a climate-saving proposal that is outside of its territorial borders.

By offering to pay a fair price to the Global South to preserve and maintain its carbon-absorbing forests, we could make a significant contribution to saving our planet.

Paul Brannen MEP is a Labour MEP and member of the European Parliament agriculture committee, and Matthias Groote MEP is a SDP MEP and member of the European Parliament environment committee

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