National Parliaments should approve Paris Climate Agreement before it is a done deal

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MIguel Arias Cañete (left) with UN SG Ban Ki-moon (photo Casa América)

MIguel Arias Cañete (left) with UN SG Ban Ki-moon (photo Casa América)

The European Commission is taking steps to have the Paris climate agreement ratified and signed at EU level, without involving the parliaments of the Member States. Although this may be formally acceptable, it is a bad idea, writes Lucas Bergkamp, Partner at the Brussels-based law firm Hunton & Williams: it will aggravate the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’, weaken popular support for climate action and will leave intact key weaknesses in the Agreement that should be addressed before it is approved.

On 22 April, there will be a formal signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations in New York. The agreement will enter into force when at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions have ‘ratified,’ i.e. formally approved, it.

On 2 March 2016, the European Commission released a policy paper[1] on the implementation of the Paris Agreement, presenting the Commission’s views on the implications for the European Union of the Paris deal, and laying out next steps in the process of implementing it. In presenting the strategy, Commissioner for Climate Action Cañete said: “We have the deal. Now we need to make it real. For the EU, this means completing the 2030 climate and energy legislation without delay, signing and ratifying the Agreement as soon as possible, and continuing our leadership in the global transition to a low-carbon future.”[2] (emphasis supplied)  This means that the Commission wants to get Paris Agreement approved before national parliaments have expressed their opinions.

The Paris Agreement is probably the most “visionary” policy ever adopted

Reflecting a strong belief in the predictive power of climate models, the Paris Agreement deals with climate policy-making until the end of this century. As such, it probably is the most “visionary” policy ever adopted. Upon closer examination, however, the EU’s rush to rubberstamp the deal  not only requires enormous investments that may turn out to be inefficient, but also aggravates the EU’s democratic deficit, adding to the widespread frustration about Brussels’ unaccountable bureaucracy.

With tensions in the EU already high over the refugee crisis, the upcoming ‘Brexit’ referendum, and the eurocrisis, the EU would do well to avoid this gamble, and involve the national parliaments now in the approval process.

Pressing issue

The Commission notes that for the period up to 2030 the Paris Agreement will have no implications for EU policy-making. The current contours of EU climate policy have been adopted by the European Council in October 2014. As the Paris Agreement “vindicates the EU’s approach,” as the policy paper puts it, the Commission will not reassess its medium-term climate policy, as has been suggested by some interest groups. For the Commission, Paris is just a matter of completing the 2030 climate and energy legislation. The first review of the EU’s “ambition” will take place in 2023 and the findings would be applicable only to the period after 2030, 14 years from now.

Green government policies may create some new jobs, but they also kill jobs

On this basis, one would expect that the Paris Agreement’s implementation is not a pressing issue for the EU, since it is relevant only to policy making after 2030. Nevertheless, the Commission treats the implementation of the Paris Agreement as an urgent issue,  which, in the words of the Climate Commissioner quoted above, would require “signing and ratifying the Agreement as soon as possible.”[3] It tries to sell this deal by invoking the benefits  implementation of the Paris Agreement will bring. According to the Commission, it will be “an opportunity for economic transformation, jobs, and growth.”[4] But the Commission disregards both the uncertainties and the costs associated with the proposed approach.

According to the Commission, by leading in the fight against climate change, the EU can maintain its “first mover advantage” in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and continue its leadership in the global transition to a low-carbon future. The closely related Energy Union strategy would create an environment that enables investors and businesses to seize the new opportunities and to generate new jobs and growth.

Climate dogmatism

In accordance with its routine to justify expensive policies,[5] the Commission refers to the substantial benefits associated with innovation and the favourable effects on the EU industry’s competitiveness, as European low carbon and energy efficiency technologies conquer the world. There is little evidence, however, for the substantial benefits to which the Commission refers. Green government policies may create some new jobs, but they also kill jobs,[6] and the idea of government-mandated innovation reflects wishful thinking at best. Clearly, the EU’s ambitious climate policies tend to place European industry at a competitive disadvantage, which the expanding ‘carbon leakage’ program is intended to reduce.[7]

While the Commission’s economic case for continued EU climate leadership is weak, its proposals have two substantial disadvantages. According to the Commission, the EU’s commitment to a clean energy transition is “irreversible and non-negotiable.”[8]

Another weakness of the Paris Agreement that the Commission’s proposal does not address, is the lack of any burden-sharing rules

This rather absolute statement may be consistent with climate dogmatism, but it is not smart policy and Paris’ references to “best available science” allow for policy adaptations. Current climate science is still highly uncertain; a recent study found that “[t]here is this mismatch between what the climate models are producing and what the observations are showing.”[9] Our  understanding of the complex climate system will continue to evolve and may well suggest changes to  climate policies we now deem necessary.  Rather than committing to Paris’ inflexible, dogmatic climate policy-making fixated on mitigation to achieve a defined long-term temperature target,national parliaments may well want to emphasize that Paris’ goals and policies be adjusted as scientific knowledge improves and the relative costs and benefits of alternative policy options become clear.

Burden-sharing

Another weakness of the Paris Agreement that the Commission’s proposal does not address, is the lack of any burden-sharing rules. No methodology has been agreed on the basis of which decisions can be made about the level of emission reduction to be achieved by each country. This omission is likely to create serious competitive disadvantages for the most ambitious countries. National parliaments need to consider this problem, and may have ideas on how to solve it.

The Commission’s proposal to by-pass national democratic procedures at this juncture is therefore problematic. Its paper suggests that early ratification and entry into force of the Paris Agreement will create the “legal certainty that the Agreement begins operating quickly.” On this ground, the Paris Agreement would have to be signed and ratified as soon as possible.

Under the current proposal, the national parliaments of the member states have only limited opportunities to debate the Paris Agreement and its implications, including its economic consequences

The Commission’s policy paper is accompanied by a proposal for a  decision by the EU Council Of Ministers that would authorise the Commission to sign the Paris Agreement on behalf of the European Union.[10] While the EU has employed this procedure in the past, given the sacrifices required by the Paris Agreement, its long-term nature, and its weaknesses, the broadest possible popular support would seem to be required for its implementation to be feasible.

In favour or against

Under the current proposal, the national parliaments of the member states have only limited opportunities to debate the Paris Agreement and its implications, including its economic consequences. They can vote in favour or against ratification only at a point in time at which their opinions have become moot. As the EU is already perceived by many as an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy that tends to ignore the majority of the population, this proposed strategy is risky. It also is unnecessary, given the lack of urgency.

The EU should therefore revise its approach to implementation of the Paris Agreement. Instead of imposing an irreversible and non-negotiable strategy administered centrally by the Brussels bureaucracy, it should allow national parliaments to opine on the key issues raised by the Paris Agreement such as science-based policy flexibility and burden-sharing. Such democratic decision-making in  implementation is necessary for the Paris deal to succeed.

[1] Communication from the European Commission, The Road from Paris: assessing the implications of the Paris Agreement and accompanying the proposal for a Council decision on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of the Paris agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2016/EN/1-2016-110-EN-F1-1.PDF

[2] Climate Action: Europe readies next steps to implement the Paris Agreement, http://ec.europa.eu/clima/news/articles/news_2016030201_en.htm

[3] Climate Action: Europe readies next steps to implement the Paris Agreement, http://ec.europa.eu/clima/news/articles/news_2016030201_en.htm

[4] Communication from the European Commission, The Road from Paris: assessing the implications of the Paris Agreement and accompanying the proposal for a Council decision on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of the Paris agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2016/EN/1-2016-110-EN-F1-1.PDF, p. 4.

[5] The European Union often invokes the favourable effects on innovation to justify restrictive regulations. For instance, to justify the EU REACH Regulation on chemicals, the EU referred to the benefits of innovation. Recital (1) of the REACH Regulation provides as follows: “This Regulation should ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment (…), while enhancing competitiveness and innovation.”

[6] Climate policies are intended to kill jobs in the fossil fuel industry, and other industries that rely on fossil fuels and cannot switch to other sources of energy. Calzada examined green energy mandates in Spain and found that 2.2 jobs were lost for every green job that was created in that country. Moreover,  green jobs created by government actions disappear as soon as government support is terminated. Institute for Energy Research, http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/topics/policy/green-jobs/

[7] Carbon leakage, http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/ets/cap/leakage/index_en.htm

[8] Communication from the European Commission, The Road from Paris: assessing the implications of the Paris Agreement and accompanying the proposal for a Council decision on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of the Paris agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2016/EN/1-2016-110-EN-F1-1.PDF, p. 5.

[9] Jeff Tollefson, Global warming ‘hiatus’ debate flares up again: Researchers now argue that slowdown in warming was real, Nature, 24 February 2016, doi:10.1038/nature.2016.19414, http://www.nature.com/news/global-warming-hiatus-debate-flares-up-again-1.19414.

[10] Proposal for a COUNCIL DECISION on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of the Paris Agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Brussels, 2.3.2016, COM(2016) 62 final, 2016/0036 (NLE).

Comments

  1. says

    Oh dear, here we go again. Politicians from all EU MS were intimately involved in both the formulation of the EU “position” and also in the COP21 negotiations. They represented governments which commanded majorities in their respective parliaments (had they not – then there would have been a different set of politicos representing their parliaments – etc etc). National parliaments have already expressed their will – through the politicos that negotiated the EU position. Thus talk about involving national parliaments is a smokescreen for delay – a favourite tactic of climate change deniers & given some of the phrases used by the writer I’d suggest he falls into this camp e.g. “reflecting a strong belief in the predictive power of climate models”. This link gives a flavour for the company that Bergkamp works for: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/02/10/143419/lobbyists-chamberleaks/

    One of the reasons for urgency is to get the USA (and China) “on-board” – quickly. If both the EU and the member states ratify the agreement quickly, it sends a signal. Bergkamp uses national parliamentary approval as a straw man argument (is that the best you can do Mr Bergkamp?).

    The rest was the usual climate denier smoke & mirrors stuff: “requires enormous investments that may turn out to be inefficient”. As usual assertions with no detail “inefficient” in what way? Or this “the EU would do well to avoid this gamble” – erm what gamble?

    I’d suggest that Mr Bergkamp is out of touch with EU/EC developments. He states “the Commission will not reassess its medium-term climate policy”. Well let me quote Runge-Metzger: “the level of ambition for 2030 is open” – maybe Bergkamp includes R-M in “some interest groups”. However, if Bergkamp thinks that the 40% for 2030 is a done deal – & if he is telling his client this – well he is, intentionally or otherwise – misleading them.

    The various links that he provides to justify his assertions (e.g. “Green government policies may create some new jobs, but they also kill jobs”) are to organisations founded and funded by, amongst others, the Koch brothers. & by the way – they have a nice operation in Europe trading on the ETS market. Tell me do the Koch’s purchase their hypocrisy wholesale?

    On & on it goes: . “current climate science is still highly uncertain” it will always have an element of uncertainty – that is what science is about – handling uncertainty. Cherry picking a go go. “lack of any burden-sharing rules….. likely to create serious competitive disadvantages for the most ambitious countries” – unsubstantiated assertion alert. Taking one example: EC studies show that in the case of manufacturing energy costs account for less than 2.5% of overall costs. If I wanted to reduce costs, I would tend to look elsewhere to start with.

    The EC has not by-passed the “national democratic process” since the “national democratic process” in the form of democratically elected ministers was intimately involved in the whole process. Wall to wall nonsense by Bergkamp who never mentions another set of nationally elected politicos – the European Parliament – but why would he – that would further destroy his straw man arguments.

    “given the sacrifices required by the Paris Agreement” – those would be? Bergkamp uses the word democracy very often – this is usually a sign of somebody that is only interested in it in so far as it furthers his, or his paymasters interests.

  2. says

    One last comment on “democracy” the link below covers polls of people in different countries and their support for renewables:
    https://www.cleanenergywire.org/news/rwe-posts-net-loss-nuclear-focus-ahead-fukushima-anniversary
    looks to me that at a minimum 70% or more of a given pop’ supports renewables. This fits with PWR’s poll survey. Populations (the demos) support low/zero carbon polices… such as the paris agreement. You were saying Bergkamp?

  3. says

    1. In the communication of the European commission it is stated (in section 2.1, Key features of the Paris Agreement) that the Paris Agreement “sends a clear signal to all stakeholders, investors, businesses, civil society and policy-makers that the global transition to clean energy is here to stay and that resources have to shift away from fossil fuels”.

    I do not read that in the Paris Agreement. In fact the words fossil fuels (or coal, oil, gas) do not appear in the text at all. Instead it states (article 4, Paris Agreement): “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases”, thus leaving open the door to CCS.

    2. I agree with the author that when adressing global warming one should also consider cost, competitiveness and security of supply. But I would not say that climate science is still highly uncertain. Remarkable progress has been made. The link between rising CO2 levels and global warming is well established. The “mismatch between what the climate models are producing and what the observations are showing” refers to a second order effect (to what extent there has been a slowing down in global warming in the 1950 – 1980 period; a slowing down that may indeed be real and caused by pollution of sulphate aerosols) and not to global warming in general.

  4. says

    The climate is not understood. Alarmism is based on immature models, which have been unable to predict the present.
    Main greenhouse gas is water vapour, not CO2.
    There is no scientific bases for a quick energy transition.
    Also, solar and wind are unable to provide sufficient and reliable energy to sustain our society.
    Therefore, the Paris agreements are a threat to humanity, a dead end road.
    Climate policy will become the Waterloo of the EU.

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