On 9 October the European Union (EU) adopted its mandate for negotiations at the COP24*/CMP14/CMA1 climate summit in Katowice, Poland (COP24). This mandate takes the form of the so-called "ENVI Council conclusions" and contains political guidelines for all the EU Member States (MS) and the European Commission. These guidelines are to be followed by the EU at every step of the international negotiations - before and during the summit itself. But what does this actually mean and how will it function, and what was the crunch point of the talks?
The actors and the procedure
Responsibility for environmental issues, including climate policy, is shared between the EU MS and the EU, understood as a separate legal entity which is represented by the European Commission (see “shared competences”). This complicates understanding of the EU’s functioning and external representation for observers. However, in practice it means, inter alia, that the EU’s position must be agreed between Member States’ ministers responsible for environment and the Commissioners at a formal meeting: the Environment Council (ENVI Council).
The conclusions are drafted by the EU Presidency (currently Austria, rotating every 6 months) and discussed in relevant preparatory bodies in Brussels (working groups, meetings of Permanent Representatives Committee, COREPER). If the final text is not agreed after these discussions, the ministers need to find a solution at the Council itself. This is not necessarily easy as the ministers come to the Council with their governmentally approved instructions. Once adopted, however, the ENVI Council conclusions form a framework for the EU’s detailed position for the international climate change negotiations.
In cases where an issue is deemed extremely important, it is also possible for decisions on climate policy to be taken above the ENVI Council. This is the level of Heads of States and Governments who gather in the European Council and must take a unanimous decision (just like in the UNFCCC!). Such a case can be related to the issue of the adoption of new or revision of the EU’s current emissions reduction targets.
The adoption of the conclusions came a day after the release of the IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. It is to be considered by ministers at COP24’s Talanoa Dialogue - the high-level facilitative event which will summarize up-to-date efforts in climate change policy. The results of such discussions can in turn inform national decisions about the contents of the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), due in 2020. It’s worth noting that these decisions are not only about how and by how much to reduce emissions; many Parties included, for example, adaptation in their NDCs. The information on possible climate scenarios from the special report can help Parties better prepare their development strategies and related policies.
The EU conclusions are also adopted way ahead of the publication of the draft of its long-term strategy for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions. It is expected at the end of November, right before the start of COP24. It will not be adopted at that point, but will definitely start a discussion on the EU’s development pathways, including energy transition.
What can the EU do with all the above input in terms of its ambition? According to the Paris Agreement (PA), the EU, having already submitted its NDC for 2030, has two choices: by 2020 it can resubmit its “at least 40%” target, or update it. Since the PA does not allow for backsliding (submitting lower targets than previously), the updated target would need to be higher. A formal agreement on this could not have happened at the 9 October ENVI Council meeting - let’s see why.
The most heated discussion during the ENVI Council was devoted to the possibility that the EU would signal readiness to review its target before 2020. It was hardly possible for the EU to agree to increase its reduction target and announce it at COP24. The last decision on what can and would be submitted at the international level in the EU’s NDC was agreed by the European Council in October 2014. Following this logic, changes to this target would need to be agreed at the same level and would require the unanimous decision of all MS. For that purpose, lengthy (around half a year) preparations on both technical and political levels would need to have been conducted.
So what does this part of the text (par. 23) actually say? It leaves the door open for the upward revision of the EU’s NDC but also leaves a lot of uncertainty as to how it would happen. The text states that such a possibility would need to take into account, or rather depend on, two issues:
Collective further efforts needed
Actions undertaken by all Parties to meet the objective of the Paris Agreement
Collective further efforts needed: this one’s rather easy. The understanding can come from the level of ambition embedded in Parties’ NDCs synthesized by the UNFCCC Secretariat, the information from the IPCC as presented in its special report on 1.5°C, and the results of the discussions in the Talanoa Dialogue.
Actions undertaken by all Parties to meet the objective of the Paris Agreement: this one’s tricky. The reference here can be understood as a need to assess both current and future ambitions, both declared and implemented by other Parties. Moreover, the modalities (e.g. form, forum, timeline) for such an assessment have not been specified. What is certain is that it would happen before 2020.
Apart from the above issues, the Council conclusions’ final text provides information on the EU’s approach to climate change within the framework of sustainable development and security. Also other issues such as circular economy, just transition, and other environmental actions are mentioned. The reference to the IPCC’s report is clear and shows the need to further reduce emissions and increase adaptation activities.
As a particularly vital message to the outside world, the conclusions describe what the EU is already doing domestically to implement the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol, and mention the upcoming EU internal discussion on the long-term strategy. The conclusions also clarify that the EU’s position on climate finance will be adopted during the meeting of finance ministers (Ecofin Council) on 6 November.
As mentioned before, the conclusions form a framework for the EU’s position. It wouldn’t, however, make sense for the negotiators to quote a general and political text during highly detailed discussions under the climate negotiations. There must be something more, and there is. The EU works all year round on the development of its detailed position and negotiating strategy which is included in the EU position paper. This document, produced by thematic groups of experts, is adopted by heads of delegations gathered at the EU Council’s Working Party on International Environmental Issues, Climate Change (WPIEI-CC). It is chaired by the EU Presidency and it is the same formation which meets every day during the international climate negotiations to discuss the EU’s position and strategy. The position paper is accompanied by even more detailed documents. None of the ideas presented in these documents and expressed internationally should go beyond what is written in the ENVI Council conclusions or, in some cases, European Council conclusions. Any doubts in that respect are discussed and settled at the WPIEI-CC meetings.
The EU speaks with one voice. This means that once an EU position is adopted, only appointed individuals, i.e. the lead negotiators, would take the floor during the international negotiating meetings and speak on behalf of the EU and its 28 Member States. At the high level, to honour the shared competences requirement, speeches and statements are divided between the Minister representing the EU Presidency and the EU climate action Commissioner.
*To understand more about COP24 and the complexity of its negotiations please refer to the manual written by Lidia Wojtal for the Forum Energii. Access here.
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