EU Climate Chief on UN Summit 'Whatever We Pledge Should Be Equally Binding'

With UN climate talks starting next week in Durban, South Africa,  hopes remain for new momentum in the drive to reduce CO2 emissions. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard reveals Europe's strategy. Divisions between rich and poor countries must end, she says.
A power station in Wollongong, Australia releases steam and other emissions.

A power station in Wollongong, Australia releases steam and other emissions.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Commissioner Hedegaard, there have been 16 United Nations climate negotiations, but little progress. What needs to happen in Durban to reach an agreement on limiting carbon dioxide emissions?

Hedegaard: Climate talks  in Durban must move beyond the traditional 20th century thinking that divided the world into a rich north and poor south.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What does that mean?

Hedegaard: Developing countries should take on more responsibility for climate protection. China and other large emerging economies should put their weight into cutting emissions. The European Union accounts for 11 percent of global emissions. It would be impossible to limit global warming to reasonable levels unless the producers of the remaining 89 percent also commit to a future set-up.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Hasn't much of the CO2 already released into the atmosphere come from the world's wealthiest nations?

Hedegaard: Of course we have to pledge different things. But we are mutually interdependent and we are trying to address global challenges. Whatever any of us pledge must be equally binding. That pledges on carbon emissions from one part of the world should be binding, whereas those in other parts of the world are not, makes no sense in the 21st century.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But so far countries with rapidly growing economies such as China, Brazil and India have received the most climate change funding through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which financially rewards emission-reduction projects in developing countries.

Hedegaard: The EU wants to change that. From 2013 the project-related funding under the CDM will only be available for the poorest countries, especially African countries.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: EU countries and other wealthy nations, with the exception of the United States, are the only ones legally bound to cut their CO2 pollution under the Kyoto Protocol treaty. But with the treaty set to expire at the end of 2012, how will you encourage the biggest greenhouse gas producers -- China, Russia and the US -- to participate?

Hedegaard: In the US and China there is progress on climate change. In the US, hundreds of cities have plans to reduce CO2. California is even starting an emissions trading scheme. Several provinces in China also plan to start pilot projects on emissions trading.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is that enough for a turnaround in Durban?

Hedegaard: The pressure on the developing countries that are most threatened by climate change is increasing too. Many developing countries have now understood that a climate treaty is important. We want to use this momentum in Durban. The EU will try to mediate and get the US and China on board.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is he EU's ultimate goal in Durban?

Hedegaard: The EU is pushing for a binding road map in which all countries would commit to take some action by 2015.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Road maps from previous UN conferences have had little success, though.

Hedegaard: Without a road map we will not see a second Kyoto commitment period. In Durban, we must bring the most important states to agree to a binding road map. The states would then have until 2015 to introduce CO2 monitoring.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How is that expected to work when most of the countries didn't even adhere to the Kyoto requirements?

Hedegaard: The difference is that this time all countries are to participate, including developing countries and emerging economies. I think most countries will follow a broad approach. The aim for this road map should be covering 80 to 85 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The problem with the current contractual position is that soon two-thirds of the anthropogenic emissions are not part of the Kyoto Protocol.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How likely is the US to support this road map?

Hedegaard: The US has signaled that they would participate if China does too. But so far in this matter there is actually little sign of progress from the US.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you expect a true breakthrough at the 21st United Nations climate conference in 2015, then?

Hedegaard: In 2015 the discussions should be finished, details should be settled and an international commitment on climate action should be signed. It will then still take years until the arrangements for CO2 reduction are implemented.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you feel as you prepare for the negotiations in Durban?

Hedegaard: Concerned. Concerned that we're putting the environment at risk.

Interview conducted by Axel Bojanowski