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Copenhagen Summit 2009: What Can the EU Expect from Obama? March 11, 2009

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by Marek Kubista 

Obama’s attitude towards the environment creates hope that the US will be more supportive of green issues. The upcoming Copenhagen summit could end in great success. To this end, the US should first secure cooperation with Europe and then both should focus on consulting and including the BRICS.in BusinessWeek EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Copenhagen Summit is a crucial date for the international community, whose outcome will determine the future possibilities of global cooperation against climate change. This date is obviously a challenge for the EU since they consider themselves at the forefront of innovation, but this will be also be a huge challenge for Obama in light of his very ambitious environment. Yet, before an agreement is reached, he will have to restore trust with the EU and secure its cooperation, to stand united against more skeptical countries; the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

Climate Change: Obama´s challenge

It does that, without dispute, since the 1990s; the US has often been at odds with the international community on climate change, which resulted in its estrangement. In America, the reality of global warming and the idea that securing sustainable development could be a synonym for economic prosperity has been more contested than embraced by various politicians and scholars. Obama’s oratory qualities will not be enough to change the trend, and some remedial education will have to be provided. For instance, Obama could use television to communicate the danger of climate change to the American public and hence, plant the seed for changing the attitude towards the American environmental policy. Likewise, he will have to secure the cooperation of the US Congress, which —fearful of an adverse effect on the economy— has been reluctant to adopt climate change measures. Despite the fact that Congress did not propose significant amendment of the recent recovery package, turning Congress into pro-environment will pose as a significant challenge.

On the international stage, the lack of collective action has been largely evident and the US carries part of the blame for this inaction. But it is to benefit of US credibility to initiate international negotiations with legislative accomplishments. Convincing the EU to cooperate will not be a problem as the EU has for some time been longing for this. Joint action between the EU and the US, will encourage cooperative attitudes from more countries. To create stronger links to the EU, the Obama administration should participate in the initiatives of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), to reverse the lack of progress which characterized the Poznan Conference, which took place in December 2009. For Copenhagen to succeed, negotiations have to be prepared long before the summit. This way, similar opinion can merge, and collective action and international cooperation will surely not suffer a setback.

Engaging with the BRICs

Beyond the necessary rapprochement with the EU, both the EU and the US should be prepared for tough negotiation with the BRICs. Indeed, there is a significant division between the developed countries and this group of developing countries. Given the fact that the economic development of the BRICs should not be impaired, and that developed countries are more responsible for greenhouse gases; developing countries argue that they should participate differently to the global effort of controlling environmental degradation. Since any successful agreement will have to provide for these differences, it is vital that negotiations start now. The US and the EU will face a challenge in securing cooperative attitudes and will have to make compromises and contributions. For instance, the US and the EU might have to undertake transfers of technologies to help BRICs adjust. The key is mitigation commitments versus financial help. Further, they should keep reminding developing countries of the various climatic risks they will face in the coming years. In the case of China, while the recent UN report on pollution holds China accountable, the whole issue was quickly forgotten with the international scene doing nothing about it.

Therefore, the EU can expect a lot from Obama considering his commitments in the past few months. One of the keys to achieve success in Copenhagen is the cooperation of the EU and the US because when united, they will have more leverage to convince the BRICs. They have to, as of today, initiate talks with the BRICs. The current financial crisis threatens the global economy, yet it should not become an excuse to postpone action. On the contrary, the crisis should be seen as a chance to start moving towards a new model of development.

Marek Kubista has studied at George Washington University (Washington DC), and is currently a Master Student of European Affairs at Sciences Po Paris. marek.kubista@sciences-po.org

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