Making policies work


Small changes, big world: An inspiration for Europe and middle-income countries fighting climate change ahead of COP24


Mariella Di Ciommo and Sanne Thijssen, ECDPM blog, 26 November 2018.

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The COP24 in Katowice, possibly the most important climate summit following the ratification of the Paris Agreement, is just around the corner. Its objective is to tell us how we are supposed to implement the Agreement and, hopefully, set an upbeat tone for more ambitious national climate commitments. Ahead of this event, we wished we could present the story of the collaboration between Europe and middle-income countries (MICs) on climate change as a story of success. However, so far, it has been a tale with multiple endings. Leaders in Europe and in major emitter countries should get inspired by ordinary people.

Mothers of invention’ is one of our favourite climate podcasts. Here, former Irish President Mary Robinson and comedian Maeve Higgins introduce us to enlightened women fighting climate change globally. This includes boycotting by the seasoned South African activist Yvette Abrahams or ordinary people like Rachelle Strauss’ family, who cut their waste to one bin per year. When we listen to these inspiring stories, we wonder: why are we doing so well on the small scale, while we risk failing massively in the grand scheme of things when facing climate change?

Much still remains to be done for a socially fair transition to a sustainable existence on this planet. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report implies a strong message: we need to act now to avoid a climate calamity. To remain under a 1.5°C temperature increase, we need to at least halve our emissions by 2030, followed by zero emissions. Climate investments need to grow massively. For middle-income countries, where emissions are high, the good news is that addressing climate change can help reduce other key problems such as poverty and inequality. Fairer societies can do good for the climate too.

No sustainable development without international cooperation

The IPCC report suggests that there’s no climate-resilient and socially just future without international collaboration for sustainable development support. The EU institutions are important players in this. Together, the European Commission (EC), European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) disbursed €9.5 billion to climate-related international development finance in 2016. The EC alone was the third largest climate donor globally, with €5.3 billion, after Japan and Germany. However, considering the scale of the challenge, Europe could do more. Although the EC has proposed to increase climate mainstreaming to 25% in the future 2021-2027 EU budget, some point out that the EU’s leadership needs to be backed by more ambitious shares – bearing in mind that the EIB and EBRD have set higher commitments (35% and 40% respectively).

EU resources are heavily invested in middle-income countries. In 2016, they received 58% of the pie, but the majority of resources went to the European Neighbourhood. Still, the EU’s phasing out of bilateral aid from some countries has left gaps in countries that are major emitters and, simultaneously, have deeply rooted poverty and inequality (think of India, Indonesia or Brazil). Small-scale financial resources could oil the diplomatic machine, enable innovation or support civil society in these countries. Space to increase resources to MICs, without taking away from the poorest countries, is tight. Still, such trade-offs could be eased using better EU tools and focusing on clear priorities.

Programming will tell what comes next

China offers an interesting example here. EU expertise, multiple diplomatic pushes and China’s growing green economy interests have been essential in establishing the Chinese emissions trading scheme and building domestic capacity for clean technologies. Moreover, possible collaboration exists in the Euro-Asia region. However, China might be more the exception than the rule. For example, EU-Ghana cooperation on climate has been far less successful, given a combination of national disinterest and European weaknesses. Major flaws exist in other countries too.

It’s still early to tell what comes next. In 2019, the programming of EU resources for the period 2021-2027 will put together some pieces of the puzzle. The joint programming preference for the next phase could help the EU and member states to collaborate better on climate, including on national diplomacy and financing. Possible country framework documents, envisioned by the newly proposed Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) regulation, could help clarify EU climate priorities for each partner country. It could also put forward policy coherence, for example in trade negotiations or energy procurement.

The inseparable couple: European diplomacy and domestic action

As with the podcast, celebrating small successes forms an important base for further action. European diplomacy has been relatively good at finding ways for collaboration in climate negotiations with countries in the south. Its intention to scale up climate diplomacy is very welcome.

Still, high-level statements need to be matched by increased capacity in non-climate fora where the EU support of climate is often light, such as the G20 and in more advanced developing countries. EU politics needs to keep climate as a priority, particularly when national interests in certain areas – such as migration – often take the upper hand and slow down domestic climate action.

Now, before COP24, certain issues still remain unresolved, including reporting frameworks for national action, future financing and climate commitment. Some resolutions might only come later. Clear EU signalling to its international partners that the climate business is on and that the EU is ready for a fair transition, can boost EU diplomacy.
European leaders should build on the scientific facts that show that the current mitigation target still means that the global temperature will rise well above 2°C. By 2030, the EU should raise its target to at least 45% and establish a vision for a carbon-neutral Union in the 2050 low-carbon strategy, ahead of COP24. Other countries, in the Americas and Asia in particular, should acknowledge that too.

European domestic performance, its international contributions and diplomacy hold phenomenal value to make progress. Going into the Summit, the EU could tap into all three to show it’s serious about climate. Moreover, bringing in voices from the ground – such as the ones echoed in the ‘Mothers of Invention’ podcast – into these spaces can be beneficial. All in all, we believe that COP24 is a great opportunity for policymakers to enable change or, who knows, get inspired by those ordinary people who are already making it happen.

The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

Photo courtesy of Jon Tyson via Unsplash.

In addition to structural support by ECDPM’s institutional partners: The Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and Austria, this publication also benefits from funding by UK aid from the Department for International Development (DFID), United Kingdom.

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European external affairsEU Development Policy and PracticeMiddle Income Countries (MIC)