Leading the way, Kyoto and beyond

The EU Commissioner for Climate Action explains how the European Union will continue to set the pace for the ambitious climate action the planet demands.

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - At the Durban climate conference that ended on Sunday, the European Union's strategy worked. The first commitment period under the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. The EU had made clear we would engage in a second Kyoto period only if Durban agreed on a clear roadmap to a deal which for the first time will bind all nations legally.

And Durban delivered this roadmap. It agreed that this new legal framework must be concluded by 2015 and come into force from 2020. And it stated that the new climate regime must be more ambitious than the one we have now.

By standing united and firm in Durban, the EU achieved what few had thought possible. We put pressure on the big emitters. We proved wrong those who thought the EU would cave in to China and India. We had to fight until the very last minute but we succeeded in bringing for the first time all countries into a common and truly global legal regime to curb emissions.

The truth is that the EU was the leader in Durban and we will continue to be proud leaders in the future. When the EU moves, others follow, sometimes under pressure, but they do move.

The EU's roadmap was at the core of the negotiations from the outset. It was our main goal and our key condition for taking a second Kyoto period. Linking the two paid off.

But how does a roadmap help combat climate change? Well, it's obvious that this doesn't change much today nor in the near future. However, it is really good news that by 2020 all countries will be legally bound under a common regime to reduce emissions.

In the meantime, more ambitious near-term action is essential. All the scientific evidence indicates that global emissions need to peak before 2020 - before the future legal regime kicks in.

In the EU we will not be sitting back and waiting for the new big deal. We will be trying to do more here: more renewables and energy efficiency, smarter ways of taxing and more emissions cuts. And this will boost growth and jobs here in Europe. Until we get the big deal in force by 2020, the rest of the world must join us in considering how they will increase their ambition.

At present only some developed countries have the legal obligation to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. With the new legal framework Durban has agreed to build; all countries, developed and developing, will for the first time be equally bound.

In breaking with the past, this new system reflects the reality of today's mutually interdependent world. All countries need to take on commitments that have equal legal weight. Developing countries, led by China, already emit more greenhouse gas than the developed world and by 2020 it is estimated they will be responsible for around two-thirds of global emissions.

The EU would have liked to see the new system in place very much earlier. But many of the big emitters were not ready for that yet. In accepting the Durban outcome they have agreed to be ready by 2020 at the latest.

In the meantime, Kyoto will act as a bridge to the new global regime. The EU has always supported Kyoto and wants to preserve its essential elements for the future. We have based our own legislation on Kyoto principles; we are the region with the most ambitious target under Kyoto - and we are meeting it. Actually, we are on course to over-achieve our target.

If there is one thing we have learned in Europe, it is this: binding targets work. They help governments remain focused even when other political priorities come up.

Important though they are, international agreements are not the only answer to climate change. What defines whether we have strong and effective or weak and inadequate climate policies is what nations, regions, municipalities, companies and each individual citizen do. Combating climate change concerns us all.

However, it is no exaggeration to say that Durban marked a breakthrough. It is not the end of the road but rather the beginning of a new phase in international climate policy. A new phase with a clear mandate to raise the level of ambition, both now and in the future legal regime.

As we did in Durban, the EU will continue to set the pace and fight for more ambition here and abroad. We will continue working to get all our partners on board for the ambitious action our planet demands.

Connie Hedegaard is the EU Commissioner for Climate Action

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