EU leadership in international climate policy

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introductio

2. Combating climate chang
2.1 Climate change in brie
2.2 Global climate negotiations
2.3 EU climate action

3. EU leadership: Success and achievemen
3.1The Kyoto Conference and beyond
3.2 Neorealism and its varieties

4. EU leadership: Failure and challeng
4.1 The Copenhagen Conference
4.2 Liberal inte r governmental

5. Conclusion

6. References

1. Introduction

As verified by scientific documents and echoed by politicians, "climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the planet" (European Commission 2007) and several irreversible hazardous consequences are predicted if the temperature continues to rise by more than 2ºC (European Commission 2007/2011). Hence, at the national level, the climate policy has become one top priority and one of "high politics" (Obertür/Kelly 2008: 35); at the international level, a new global framework on climate change issues has been established and a "competitive business" (Kilian/Elgström 2010: 268) for leadership spread out among great powers (the EU and the US in particular).

Responding to a central question: To what extent did the EU lead the international climate policy? This paper focuses on the EU performance in global climate negotiations, the type/ quality of the EU leader role, and internal problems/external challenges facing the EU. At the beginning, this paper briefly reviews the climate change in recent 160 years and the global climate negotiations from performances of individual leaders and international institutions last century to interventions and interactions of state actors this century (chapter 2.1 & chapter 2.2). Next, the EU climate actions are reviewed and its latest important initiatives are updated (chapter 2.3). This paper then compares two representative periods (chapter 3 & chapter 4): the Kyoto Conference, which signaled the success and achievements of the EU leadership and the Copenhagen Conference, which illustrated the failure and challenges of the EU leadership. Most importantly, this paper applies the neorealism and its varieties to discuss why and how the EU strived for a leadership in international climate policy, and the liberal intergovernmentalism to explore the EU internal problematic leading partially to the failure of the EU at the Copenhagen Summit. In the concluding section (chapter 5), the key points of this paper are emphasized. In addition, the future of the EU leadership and its way forward are discussed.

2. Combating climate change

2.1 Climate change in brief

Obviously human beings have been experiencing a global warming since the Industrial Revolution began around 1850. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Earth's average temperature has risen by 0.76ºC and a further rise by 1.8ºC - 4ºC (even 6.4ºC in the worst case) is predicted this century, if the world doesn't act (European Commission 2007/2011).

Climate change is threatening the Earth. If the temperature rises by more than 2ºC, the Earth has to face irreversible consequences (European Commission 2007/2011): In consequence of polar ice caps melting, sea levels are going to rise and lowlying areas of the Earth would disappear. Moreover, fresh water in many parts of the world would be in shortage due to the rainfall change. In addition, more physical and economic damages would result from extreme weather events. For instance, extreme weather events like floods or droughts would hazard food production and cause human deaths.

Climate change results mainly from a "build - up of greenhouse gases (GHGs)" (European Commission 2011), which is closely linked to human activities. Scientists point out the natural greenhouse effect (traping the Sun's heat and keeping the Earth's temperature at a bearable level) does protect the well-being of human kind. However, human activities, such as burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests, are enhancing the greenhouse effect (European Commission 2007/2011).

2.2 Global climate negotiations

Collective efforts to combat climate change can be traced back to early agenda setting time between mid 1950s and 1980s, where creative individual leaders innitiated a series of well-funded climate related researches and helped to establish international institutions on climate issues. For instance, Roger Revelle, the director of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, organized the International Geophysical Year of 1957 and hired Charles David Keeling to monitor regularly atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. The latter created "Keeling curve", which provided credible evidence of steadily growing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Regarding important international institutions, the United Nations Environment Program played a crucial role to capture policy concern on climate change and the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases contributed to initiate consideration of a global climate convention (Andresen/Agrawala 2002: 43-44).

Since 1988 it has been more about conflicts or coordinations among state governments than interactions between individual leaders and international institutions. The entry of state actors marked a new era in international climate policy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by state governments, was able to provide more "scientific credibility and political legitimacy" (Andresen/Agrawala 2002: 44). During intergovernmental negotiations, the US became the most decisive actor, while the EU also turned out to be one strong block in international arena (Andresen/Agrawala 2002: 45-46).

Despite diverse stances of parties (pushers or laggards) or compromises among states, there are still four highlights in the history of global climate negotiations:

(i) The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 1992. The Convention, which was adopted at the "Rio Earth Summit" in 1992, "provided the very basis of international cooperation on climate change" (Oberthür 2008: 41). It created a linkage between climate issues and human safety, marked the ultimate objective, which is to stabilize GHGs emissions at a safe level within a time-frame (UNFCCC: The Convention). Moreover, the Convention established the most prominent principles, one of them is the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR) (Oberthür 2008: 41). In other words, industrialised countries are expected to lead the way to combat climate change. Besides, the vulnerable developing countries or the countries under abnormal burden should be given full consideration.
(ii) Kyoto Protocol 1997. The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted at the Kyoto Summit in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, set firstly "binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community for reducing GHG emissions" (UNFCCC: Kyoto Protocol). Those countries should reduce their emissions by an average of 5% below 1990 levels over the period 2008-2012. The Protocol is more ambitious than the Convention, for the former committed the industrialised countries to cut emissions, while the latter encouraged them to do so (UNFCCC: Kyoto Protocol).

The Protocol is also famous for its three main market based mechanisms (UNFCCC: Kyoto Protocol/Oberthür 2008:42): a. Emission trading ("the carbon market"). Under this mechanism, greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide in particular) are traded on the market like commodities. Industrialised countries that are capable to overachieve their targets can sell the excess emission units to countries that have difficulty in achieving their targets. b. Clean development mechanism (CDM). Through this mechanism, industrialised countries can earn certified emission reduction credits (CER), each of which equals one tonne of CO2, by implementing an emission-reduction project in developing countries. This mechanism contributes to a sustainable development in developing countries and meanwhile provides industrialised countries more flexibility in meeting their targets. c. Joint implementation (JI). In the same way, it provides industrialised countries opportunity to earn emission credits through emission reduction activities in other industrialised countries, especially those with transition to market economies in 1990s.

(iii)Bali Road Map 2007. The Bali Road Map was established at the Bali Conference in 2007 and launched a new negotiating process to be completed by 2009, which aimed to achieve a global climate agreement in post-Kyoto Protocol time (UNFCCC: Bali Road Map/Oberthür 2008:42).
(iv) Cancun Agreements 2010. Cancun Agreements, reached at the Cancun Summit in 2010, exhibited the largest collective efforts that have been made so far to combat climate change. Two key objectives, represented in the Agreements, are firstly to keep the global average temperature rise below 2ºC by reducing human-generated GHG emissions and secondly to help developing countries prevent adverse climate change effects and build sustainable development (UNFCCC: Cancun Agreements). The Agreements are also known for that there are formally captured national plans for reducing GHG emissions, the most comprehensive packages to support developing countries to deal with climate change and a timely schedule for nations to review the progress they have made to meet their targets (UNFCCC: Cancun Agreements).

2.3 EU climate action

With regard to EU actions to combat climate change, as the European Commission stated in its own publications, "the EU is not starting from scratch in tackling climate change. The EU has been progressively strengthening its measures to increase energy efficiency, limit emissions from factories and cars, and encourage energy savings for a number of years" (European Commission 2007). Overall, EU climate actions are divided into two phases.

(i) 1990-2006

In the early 1990s, the EU officially expressed a self-declared leadership role on environment and climate issues. This self-declared leadership conception was clearly represented in Dublin Declaration 1990, where the EU assumed a "wider responsibility" to lead the "concerted and effective action at global level" and meanwhile a "enormous" capacity to provide leadership (Elgström 2010: 6).

Since intergovernmental negotiations on the Climate Change Convention were launched in 1991, the EU leader role has been increasingly strengthened. The EU came to the Koyoto Summit with a ambitious reduction target (emission cuts by 15% by 2010). After the conference, the EU accepted the deepest emission cuts by 8% which was inscribed in the Kyoto Protocol. To meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU developed the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP), which led EU-level policies and measures to reduce GHG emissions, including "energy standards for building and laws to restrict the use of certain industrial gases with a very high global warming effect" (European Commission 2007).

The most famous policy, created by the ECCP, is the EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) in 2005. The scheme, as one important practise of "the carbon market" promoted by the Protocol Kyoto, provides a permanent incentive for companies to minimize emissions as far as possible. It works in the following way: "The national authorities allocate a certain number of emission allowances to each company. Companies that keep their emissions below the level of their allowances can sell the allowances they don't need. Those having difficulty in keeping to their allowances can buy the extra allowances on the market"(European Commission 2007).

(ii) since 2007

Since 2007, the EU has become the most ambitious player on climate change issues by renewing its programmes and strategies. The EU made in 2007 an independent commitment, which undertook a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020, combined with an offer to step up cuts to 30% in comparable international circumstances (Oberthür 2008:44). This independent commitment was in 2008 upgraded to the climate and energy package, which encompasses measures of cutting greenhouse gases by 20%, reducing energy consumption by 20% through energy efficiency and meanwhile meeting 20% of energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 (European Commission 2010).

3. EU leadership: Success and achievements

3.1 The Kyoto Conference and beyond

As mentioned above, the Kyoto Conference, where a global framework was finalized successfully, namely the Kyoto Protocol, formed the first but crucial step to combat climate change. The Protocol-era signaled the success and achievements of the EU leadership, although the "architecture" of the Protocol, especially the market based flexible mechanisms, was heavily influenced by the US.

Prior to the Kyoto Conference, the Berlin Mandate, which was adopted at the First Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention (CoP1) and signaled the "start of real negotiations over commitments", was mainly forged by the EU (Andresen/Agrawala 2002: 47). Before the Kyoto Summit, the EU finally agreed on "an internal burden-agreement" and represented itself at the summit with a ambitious reduction target ( 15% emission cuts by 2010), which was "applauded by the environmental movement" and riveted the public's attention (Andresen/Agrawala 2002: 47). During the conference, the EU behaved as lead negotiator and exercised great influence on other reluctant countries. Moreover, the EU stayed in the center of the negotiating arena, as the EU presented a strong voice even in front of the US and EU's main objectives (like legally binding commitments or quantified targets) were also reflected in the final Protocol (Eppenstein/Gerlach/Huser 2010).

The EU leadership has been impressively strengthened in the stage beyond the Kyoto Conference, especially when the Bush Administration abandoned the leadership on climate change issues (Oberthür/Kelly 2008: 36). The EU emphasized "the enviromental integrity", focusing on domestic actions, in the negotiations on the Marrakech-Accords, which was established in 2001 and provided the further elaboration and implementing rules of the Protocol (Oberthür 2010: 43). In addition, the EU paved the way for saving the Protocol as the major pusher of its ratification. Nearly all of industrialised countries in Annex B of the Protocol (except the US) have ratified the Protocol (European Commission 2010).

3.2 Neorealism and its varieties

By applying the core theoretical assumptions of neorealism and its varieties, this chapter responds to the questions of why the EU strived for a leadership in the international climate policy and how the EU succeeded in influencing others in the Protocol-era.

(i) Balancing of power

Kenneth Walz, the most influential neorealist, laid out in his well-known book "Theory of International Politics" a conceptualisation of the international system and its internal structure. As Walz claimed, the international system contains two elements: units and structure. The former consists of uniform states that are described as "black box", the latter shapes independently the behaviours of states. From the neorealist perspective, the international structure is characterised with the anarchical ordering principle. The states are therefore forced to maximize their security through balancing of power (Schörnig 2006).

International climate policy is a new emerging field (the first gloal legally binding convention "UNFCCC" wasn't established until the early 1990s.) closely linked to the international security and well-being of human kind.

The EU viewed the newborn global climate regime as a good opportunity to "stand forth as a strong and unified block on the world scene" (Andresen/Agrawala 2002: 45). On one hand, internal strategic motivations (e.g. to meet strong public demand for environmental protection, to reinvigorate the European integration process, to sustain future energy supplies and to push forward multilaterism) support the EU's striving for leadership on climate change. On the other hand, in contrast to the EU, the US was seen as laggard due to its "overall cautious and negative stance" (Andresen/Agrawala 2002: 45). The US opposed quantified targets and timetable approach, because it found that inflexible and impractical in terms of benefits related to costs. During the Bush administration, the US even abandoned the leadership on climate issues (It unilaterally abandoned the Kyoto accords in 2001). Against this backdrop with the absence of other great powers, the EU welcomed this opportunity to step out of the shadow of the US and gain the most international powerful position.

(ii) Soft balancing

It's assumed in the classic neorealism theory (e.g. Walz's structural realism) the power balancing process is achieved either through military buildups or war-fighting alliances. However, following the US new aggressively unilateral national security strategy during the Bush administration, a debate was conducted responding to a question, whether power balancing, instead of traditional military rivalry, can be also achieved through "soft" factors. Robert A. Pape presented in his article "Soft Balancing against the United States" a "soft balancing" strategy, which relies on "international institutions, economic statecraft and diplomatic arrangements" (Pape 2005: 10).


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EU leadership in international climate policy
Ruhr-University of Bochum
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EU, leadership, climate policy
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Duanzhuang Zheng (Author), 2012, EU leadership in international climate policy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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