European Capacity Building Initiative

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”: A call for Europe to demonstrate renewed leadership in the international climate change regime


March 2017

The surprise election of avowed climate sceptic Donald J. Trump as the 45th US President not surprisingly led some commentators to highlight parallels with the situation in 2001, when President George W. Bush repudiated the Kyoto Protocol

This Strategy Note looks at the situation in 2001 – when the EU took the initiative to save the Kyoto Protocol – and now, with a view to assessing the need for, and chances of, invigorated EU leadership in the international effort to combat climate change under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Given the statements made by the Chinese leadership in the aftermath of the recent US elections, it is clear that China is willing to continue playing a leading role, both in its domestic actions and in the international climate negotiations. But, the authors argue, the loss of the developed country partner in the ‘G2’ has put China as a developing country in a difficult position because of the internationally acknowledged requirement for leadership from the developed world.. In order to get the maximum ambition out of the Paris Agreement, there needs to be a suitable developed country partner to take up the role of the US in the G2.

This, the authors argue, is where the EU can and must enter into the picture: to help provide the geopolitically balanced leadership which the Paris Agreement requires, if not to survive, then in order to be ambitious and effective. They propose two related measures that would be conducive to that end.

For the new G2 partnership to be as ambitious and effective as possible, the authors suggest that it should be based on ‘strategic collaborations’, by which they mean collaborative actions that involve some concrete quantified targets to be achieved under the collaboration, be it in terms of reducing (utility) emissions or through the linking of emissions trading schemes.

In light of the complexity of competencies in the EU, they also suggest that for collaborations in areas with mixed or sole Member State competence, the presence of a high-level EU ‘Special Envoy for Strategic Climate Change Collaboration’ could be helpful – not only in matters of internal coordination, but as designated interlocutor managing the external relations of the collaborations.

Strategic collaborations thus facilitated should help the EU to demonstrate renewed leadership, in particular (but not only) to partner with China in an ambitious and effective new G2.

It should also be recognized that strategic relationships with other countries, including  G 77, should also be an element in the EU effort.

FC Publication Date: 
27 February 2017
FC Publication: 
Benito Müller