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Climate a weighty burden for EU

By Laurence Peter
BBC News, Brussels

Factory in Berlin, file pic
An east-west divide remains in the EU over contributions to climate targets

The Brussels summit provided a sharp foretaste of the hard bargaining the world can expect at the crucial Copenhagen summit on climate change in December.

There is still an east-west divide in the EU over national contributions to climate targets, with former communist countries such as Poland and Hungary arguing against specific funding pledges at this stage.

Another lesson from this summit is that the new president of the European Council, whoever that turns out to be, will need to be a skilful consensus-builder and no mere figurehead.

The UK government used this summit to promote former prime minister Tony Blair as an "excellent candidate" for the job.

Yet there is no shortage of potential rivals, and Sweden, chairing the summit, said it was still too early to discuss names because the Czech Republic had not yet ratified the Lisbon Treaty.

Speculation is also rife about who will get the powerful new job of EU foreign policy chief. In the EU's consensus-driven politics, some say that job is likely to go to the centre-left, with the president's job going to the centre-right.

One more hurdle?

The summit resulted in a deal to satisfy the Eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has resisted signing the long-delayed treaty.

The Czechs will now join Poland and the UK in having an opt-out from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Deciding on fair burden-sharing will be a major challenge for the EU and its global partners

There seems to be just one more hurdle for Lisbon - a ruling by the Czech Constitutional Court, expected next week.

This summit was very much focused on December, when the Swedish EU presidency ends. The institutional changes under Lisbon could be in full swing by then, but the world's attention will turn to Copenhagen.

The UK and Scandinavian countries were pushing for a specific EU pledge to help the world's poorest countries adapt to the impact of climate change.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt
Fredrik Reinfeldt says the EU is in a strong negotiating position

The summit conclusions fell short of that. EU leaders said a working group would have to hammer out the details after Copenhagen and the initial "fast start" funding for 2010-2012 would be voluntary.

The question of burden-sharing is at the heart of the EU split over member states' contributions. Eastern European governments stress the EU principle of "solidarity".

They say they have already slashed CO2 emissions and that EU funding for poor developing countries should be based on gross national product - that is, ability to pay. They do not want their CO2 emissions to be the yardstick.

All EU leaders agree that, for Copenhagen to succeed, other industrialised countries must put more resources into combating climate change, for example by developing carbon markets like the EU's pioneering cap-and-trade system.

EU's leadership role

Despite these difficulties, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "We are ready for Copenhagen - we've agreed a negotiating mandate".

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said the EU "has a very strong negotiating position" for Copenhagen. The EU would keep its leadership role in the climate talks, he said.

CLIMATE CHANGE GLOSSARY

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming rising more than 2C above the pre-industrial level.

Even a 2C rise is expected to hurt millions of people worldwide, especially those in arid or coastal areas.

Tim Gore, a spokesman for Oxfam International, told the BBC that funding to help poorer countries cope with climate change would be "absolutely critical for the outcome of Copenhagen".

Oxfam says the EU should commit at least 35bn euros (£31bn; $52bn) annually as public money for funding climate adaptation in developing countries.

"This needs to be new money," he said, expressing "great concern" that some countries might divert financing for climate adaptation from budgets for existing aid programmes.

"We don't yet have the assurances we need on this."

This summit was partly about giving fresh momentum to the climate talks. The eye-watering figures indicate that a colossal global effort will be required.

The EU estimates that by 2020 the cost of adapting poor countries to climate change will be about 100bn euros annually.

Much of that will be funded by the industrialised world, whose pollution has been blamed for the global warming problem.

Deciding on fair burden-sharing will be a major challenge for the EU and its global partners.



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