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EU Seeks Leadership in Global Governance via Climate Response

At a time when many countries are less interested in climate change, EU has a lot more than climate change governance to expect from its Green Deal

By Xu Mouquan Updated Jan.10

The 25th UN Climate Change Conference ended on December 15 in Madrid, Spain, without achieving substantive results due to the great differences on the carbon trading market mechanism and the expression of states’ independent contributions. 

In sharp contrast, the ambitious EU released the “European Green Deal” during the conference, setting a strategic target of “carbon neutrality,” or bringing net carbon dioxide emissions to zero, by 2050. 

The EU has a lot to expect from the Green Deal, including reshaping the EU’s leadership in global governance via climate response, Fan Yiyang, a researcher with the Center for German Studies, Shanghai-based Tongji University, wrote for news portal The Paper

The Green Deal is not just about climate governance, but the EU’s leverage to integrate economic development and internal governance, Fan argued.

First, it is an economic development plan, he explained. The EU will use it to promote the development of a clean and circular economy and coordinate the development of a green and digital economy. Second, the agreement covers all aspects of EU social life, and meeting the climate control objectives will become an important benchmark for EU social governance. 

The deal is also a fiscal plan, he argued. To achieve the target for 2030, the it holds that the EU needs at least 260 billion euros of investment each year, accounting for 1.8 percent of total GDP of the EU in 2018. To this end, the European Commission will either introduce new investment plans or utilize existing funds.

But the Green Deal faces challenges ahead, he said. Due to differences in energy structure, policy concepts and governance capabilities among EU members, not all members have the will and ability to integrate it into their own development. And they also have different ideas on which energy source can replace coal as clean energy – especially around nuclear power.

In view of this, the Green Deal introduces the “Just Transition Mechanism” to make up for the loopholes. However, with the impending Brexit, the EU’s budget will face a huge gap. Unsolved questions like how much subsidies for climate control should be and how the standards should be formulated to balance efficiency and fairness show that the top-level system design of the EU is difficult to be consistent with the actual implementation, Fan wrote.

While giving a boost to other countries’ confidence in climate governance by setting high requirements for itself, the EU also aims to promote “green diplomacy” through it and establish its leadership in global governance through climate governance, he said, citing European Council President Charles Michel. 

The deal emphasizes the fundamental position of the multilateral cooperation represented by the Paris Climate Agreement, and thus fills the leadership vacancy left by the US. And the importance of climate and environment issues in the EU’s third-party cooperation and development assistance policies will likely continue to increase, he said, citing the European Commission’s proposal to take respecting the Paris Climate Agreement as a basic element of all future comprehensive trade agreements.

In fact, the EU's carbon emissions in 2018 accounted for about 9 percent of the world's total, down 1.9 percent from the previous year. It has limited space to play an exemplary role in cutting emissions. So whether the EU can regain the leadership of global climate governance depends to a large extent on its interaction and cooperation with other economies. 

In the future, the EU will further bind climate and trade, investment and development assistance issues, strengthening its role as a “normative force” on the international stage. The Green Deal is more of a policy pledge by the EU to demonstrate a positive attitude towards reshaping global governance. It needs further observation as to how it will make it into a practical action plan.