Opinion: China and the US leave the EU behind on climate change


EU should fight to keep hold of its climate leadership position. Photo credit: Pete Souza / The White House via Flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen

 Last week, China and the US both ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. This is hugely significant. That action means that the countries who have ratified the agreement jump from covering just 1% of the world’s global emissions to 40%. And now it only needs another 15% coverage for the deal to come into force. That 15 % could be added if the European Union (EU) and India were to ratify the agreement. India is expected to ratify soon, but the scenario for the EU looks a lot more long-term. The block of 28 European countries, once seen as global climate leaders, are now fast losing that title to China and the US.

During the years of inaction on climate change by China and the US, it was those two countries that were seen as the dark horses. This was lamented by European leaders, as we couldn`t see action on climate change take effect before the US and China commit to any serious action. The US has now not only taken the leadership baton, but the EU has said to the US “we don’t want that leadership position anymore; you go and take it”. Obama had previously said that it is only right for the world’s two largest emitters (US and China) to lead on climate change.

We have to admit that the ratification process in the EU is complicated and can take time. This is because each country has to ratify separately before the EU as a bloc can do so. But it is, however, strange that apart from the US, the only western and developed country that has ratified it is Norway. One can wonder why climate leadership countries such as Germany, Denmark, the UK and the hosts of COP21, France, are not ratifying the deal themselves or at least pushing the EU to ratify? One can only guess there are other matters that take priority, such as the refugee and immigration crisis, Brexit, the far-right movements and so on.

But while one bemoans the lack of progress in the EU, one must also praise the progressive action on climate change in both China and the US. These actions have enabled the two countries to ratify the Paris Agreement much faster than anyone expected. While China and the US still have a long way to go, they have already come a long way.

Some of these actions are A) China’s fast and accelerating pace of clean energy investments, more than any other country, to their war on coal as coal mines and plants are closing daily. B) The Obama Administration, having enacted the Clean Power Plan, and thus establishing solar and wind power generation as major economic players in the American energy landscape, are key events during Obama’s two terms in office

But of course, it is not only the EU who need to up their game. Other large emitters such as Canada, Russia, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the hosts of this year’s climate talks COP22, Morocco, could send a positive signal by ratifying the agreement.

Through the years the EU has been a catalyst  for action on climate change and deserve credit for getting the US and China onboard. But it is deeply worrying to observe the backseat they have since taken. The EU as a climate change leader would benefit a host of member states and would be of huge significance globally. While the US’s leadership is welcome, we should not let the US take away what has been built up in the EU for decades. It is time to start claiming back that leadership position. With the turmoil, the EU currently finds itself in and with some environmentalists arguing we’re better positioned to fight climate change outside the EU, this is more important NOW than ever before.

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