In June, European prime ministers meeting in Brussels were unable to agree on an EU proposal to completely decarbonize by 2050.
Poland, with the backing of a few other Eastern European countries, said they could not support a plan they believe will inhibit their economic growth.
At the time, campaigners were bitterly disappointed. The failure to agree meant that the EU showed up empty handed to the special UN climate summit in New York last month. It had been hoped that the EU raising its climate ambition would motivate others to do the same. In the end, no major economy made new pledges to up their ambition for their pledges under the Paris Agreement at the New York summit.
People involved in the EU negotiations believe Warsaw’s objection can be overcome by offering Eastern Europe more money to ease the transition away from fossil fuels – mostly through a “just transition fund” that would help workers in coal regions, among other things.
Getting Poland on board will take time. But campaigners say it’s essential for this to be done before the next annual summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is meeting in Santiago, Chile in early December.
Thanks to Brexit, there is no chance of that happening.
EU leaders hold their Brussels summits four times a year, so the next opportunity for them to endorse the 2050 plan was at the October summit this past week. But yet again, the climate discussion had to be postponed because of the ongoing British crisis of Brexit.
After the EU granted it two extensions, the UK was due to leave the bloc on October 31. But with no leaving deal yet agreed by the start of this summit, it had to be used to try to clinch a last-minute agreement. Eventually a deal was agreed, but it appears it will be rejected by the British Parliament, which has already asked the EU for yet another extension.
“Everything is being overshadowed by Brexit,” noted one diplomat from an Eastern European country. That is the reason the climate discussion is being delayed until the next EU summit in December, he said.
“It feels like we can’t make any progress on climate change until Brexit is resolved one way or the other – it’s an infuriating distraction,” grumbled another EU official.
The problem is that the next Brussels meeting of prime ministers is scheduled for December 12, the last day of the Santiago UN summit. Any agreement on the 2050 plan would therefor come too late to influence Paris Agreement pledges in Chile.
Now, with a new extension imminent, it looks like the December summit may also be overtaken by Brexit – pushing adoption of the 2050 plan into 2020, and maybe even beyond.
It is a state of affairs that is increasingly infuriating people in Brussels and other continental European capitals, who are eager to see the back end of Britain and move on to pressing EU business. French President Emmanuel Macron has been particularly vocal on this subject. Dealing with the Brexit mess is harming development of the Paris Agreement, which was one of his highest priorities upon taking office.
But despite how much Macron and others would like to refuse the repeated British requests for extensions, the EU had stuck to a policy in which it does not want to be the one at fault for the chaotic no-deal scenario that would result. Therefor there is little prospect of EU leaders turning this latest request down, however much they would like to.
The impact of Brexit itself on global climate ambition is as yet unclear. The British government has pledged to match the carbon emission policies of the EU after it leaves the bloc, though on environmental standards they may begin to diverge. For the moment, the greater impact has been on Brexit’s derailment of EU progress on climate change – which then has the effect of slowing progress globally in the Paris Agreement talks.
Everyone wants Brexit to go away, but perhaps nobody more so than climate change activists.