Not long after the end of last December’s botched Copenhagen Climate summit, in his first major duty the new President of the European Union, Herman van Rompouy, invited European leaders to an informal meeting. This is happening today.

When the invitation was issued, climate change and the Copenhagen summit were high on the agenda - how quickly events change things? Now we see action to tackle climate change slipping down the agenda as the short term economic problems take a front seat.

Copenhagen was the moment when climate leaders were needed partly because ‘events’ do rapidly shift political focus. There were some leaders at the summit – mostly governments from those countries most vulnerable to climate change speaking out for their future. Their calls fell on the deaf ears of the rich industrialised countries.

We needed climate leaders from industrialised countries – governments willing to step up to their responsibility. In past climate negotiations, the EU has shown some leadership, but in Copenhagen they dropped the ball and were marginalised.

Before Copenhagen Greenpeace warned that a political declaration or any language which left open the question of what countries are committed to or what the legal nature of their commitments are would be a grave waste of the momentum of the Copenhagen process and unacceptable. But this is what actually happened – the culmination of two years negotiations by the world’s governments resulted in a weak Copenhagen accord.

But although the Copenhagen moment has come and gone, failure to take action on climate change is simply not an option. The BASIC group of countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) were the first to hold a meeting on the Copenhagen outcome in India on January 24 and are a powerful force within the climate negotiations, leaving the EU way behind.

At today’s meeting the EU could send an important message to the world; it could regain its leadership in the struggle against climate change as well as build the trust and confidence with developing countries needed to move towards a fair and legally binding global deal. This can be done by the EU increasing its target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to an unconditional 30% as a step towards the 40% cut from industrialised countries that is needed to keep average global temperatures below the 2 degree C, necessary to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

A recent report – “30% and Beyond -Strengthening EU Leadership on Climate Change" by the influential E3G says that achieving a 30% cut now would be €104 billion less than cutting by 20% was expected to be when it was adopted in 2008. In fact the 2009 IEA World Energy Outlook suggests that the EU could meet a 20% target without any domestic abatement which completely undermines the Europe’s much lauded Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). A 30 percent or higher target is in the EU’s strategic interest. Domestically it would help drive through the transformational change needed to create a low carbon economy leading to higher employment and growth. The EU’s renewables target alone will lead to 2.8 million new jobs and deliver billions of Euros in savings in oil and gas imports bills and pollution costs.

Developing countries are being called upon to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by between 15 and 30% from future business as usual. It is noteworthy that some commitments already made are well above this: South Africa – 34%; Brazil – 36-39%; Mexico – 30% and the Marshall Islands – 40%.

Had the EU stepped up its target to at least 30% unconditional (even if not mentioning the 40%) – this could have shifted the dynamic significantly in Copenhagen. Although it is very unlikely that this would have resulted in the treaty that we wanted, at least the frame would have been different, and there would have been more trust between the EU and progressive developing countries. As it is there is disarray – not least within the EU – about their strategy and way forward.

It is industrialized countries that hold the key to rebuilding the shattered trust that pervades the international negotiations. EU is critical to moving forward to achieving a deal which has the necessary targets and finance. The EU Heads of State are meeting today – and they will meet at a further Summit near the end of March. Between now and then we need to make it clear that they need to up their game, recognise the science and step up to declare the targets needed. Nothing less will ensure the fight to protect the climate will not end with the debacle at Copenhagen.

The EU must Take Action – Change the Future.

--Paul Horsman