Between COP28 and Green Deal: what to expect from future climate policy?

12 December 2023 /

4 min

The guest speakers from our event. (From left to right: Federica di Sario, Suzana Carp, Jakop Dalunde, Mario Vega)

That the European Union plays a pivotal role when it comes to leading the fight against climate change is clear, but how will this be put in practice? How does the COP 28 in Dubai fit into this picture? And what further steps can be done to combat climate change?

These and many other questions were at the forefront of the event that Eyes on Europe, along with invited guest speakers, tried to shed light upon. Around 30 students and interested people found their way into Kamilou in the European quarter of Brussels in order to discuss the anticipated impacts of the COP 28 in Dubai, as well as how the European Union can assume its role as a climate pioneer. 

Three guest speakers joined our Co-President and Co-Host Mario on stage this evening, namely Suzana Carp from Volt & Cleantech Europe, Jakop Dalunde, MEP from the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament and Federica di Sario, climate reporter from Politico.

The debate began with a history lesson and a bit of perspective. Over the years, the different Conferences of the Parties (COP), have culminated in historically impactful agreements, creating a shift that raised awareness for the need to implement policies to tackle climate change. From the first COP and the adoption of the Kyoto protocol in 1992, the need to act politically has been clear from the get go, but how exactly to go on about it proved to be rather contentious. And since the COP is a veto-based process, nothing happens if a single country disagrees. So while the first COP meetings were characterised by a top-down approach, where the benchmarks and goals to achieve for nations were prescribed beforehand, a remarkable shift occurred at COP 21 in Paris. Here, the “dynamic has shifted upside down”, explained MEP Jakop Dalunde, where the nations themselves prescribed their commitments, allowing current big polluters like the US and China to get on board. This ultimately led to the 2015 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty that aims to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. 

What further underlies the spirit of the COPs is the fact that climate change is a global challenge, transcending the boundaries of nations and therefore requiring collective action, from everyone. From everyone is the right keyword, since criticism is loud regarding the fact that the event is taking place in Dubai in the UAE, a leading producer of fossil fuels. Despite the fact that big fossil fuel lobbyists sit at the table, Suzana Carp emphasised the prospect for large financial partnerships and investments in Europe as crucial. The Green New Deal, which was announced at COP 25 in Madrid, further enshrined the EU’s role as a pioneer in environmental policies. Yet, the upcoming changes expected from the green transition will leave no sector within society untouched. This will require large amounts of financial resources and therefore new investments, emphasised Carp, the foundations of which should be laid at this year’s COP.

In this regard, Federica di Sario highlighted the agenda-setting role attributed to the COP and that this year’s main focus should really be about “the phase out of fossil fuels”. While it is evidently very hard to keep an eye out on everything that is going on at the event, the major decisions taken will be referred to throughout the upcoming year. Yet, di Sario shared the frustration around the slow progress and the often-present difficulty in reaching a compromise between all the participants.

The reluctance to find compromises and announce big statements can in part be traced back to the emergence of new players and big polluters on the world stage, like China for instance. But pointing the finger for stalled negotiations at only one side would offer a too narrow picture of the complexities faced by modern societies. Hence, an important and often overlooked aspect is the role of Western developed nations and their willingness (or unwillingness) to assume their historic role as big polluters, a crucial point brought up by Greens MEP Dalunde. 

Taking into consideration what has been brought up by the guest speakers, what can be done to provide equitable solutions to combating climate change that gets everyone on board?

While the EU with its Green New Deal is now referred to as an environmental pioneer, the Union has also passed its industrial and environmentally polluting peak. The continent is now largely deindustrialised, heavily depending on foreign labour to create and import cheap products for the Single Market. Therefore, it has not only externalised its productions, but also the emissions that go along with it. It is unsurprising that the EU therefore actually surpasses both the US and China in contributing to the most emissions outside its borders.

How does this relate to the COP and the often perceived slow and cautious pace at which its negotiations take place? Since the EU is the biggest contributor of outside emissions, it would only be equitable for countries suffering from the consequences to be reimbursed for the damages. In this regard, the loss and damage fund was agreed at COP 28, which would see polluting nations provide financial support to damages already done. While estimates of these damages range from 100 to 500 billion dollars a year, the money pledged so far into the loss and damages fund only amounts to 700 million dollars, a mere drop of water on a hot stone. 

Hence, the emissions made by the West decades ago matter, and the emerging powers in the new multipolar world are of course aware of this. However, since the climate crisis is a global phenomenon transcending borders, Western developed nations need to assume their role as historic CO2 emitters, which allowed them to reach the standards of living we enjoy today in the first place. Hindering developing countries in trying to reach the same level is not the way to go. Rather, sharing some of the wealth accumulated over centuries by developed countries with the developing and least developed countries would be a first step in order to offer a holistic approach to the climate emergency. Further, such an approach could solidify the EU’s role as a true pioneer in handling the environmental crisis.

All in all, there are many intricacies surrounding an appropriate approach that is to adequately tackle the climate crisis. Multilateralism, as in the form of the yearly COP, is a necessary measure in order to underscore the obligation to act on a large scale. But what the COP, as well as the implementation of the Green New Deal show, is that all parties involved are required to make concessions. Looking at the bigger picture and the cost that inaction will have on our planet, it might therefore be better to make these concession now in terms of GDP, rather than to leave the bill for future generations to be picked up.

This was the first event of our new series of debates, where Eyes on Europe tries to engage critical subjects together with a range of different stakeholders. We would like to thank the invited guest speakers for their time and valuable input, and stay tuned for more to come next year!

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