Show Less
Open access

European Union Foreign Policy and the Global Climate Regime


Simon Schunz

Ever since the first international negotiations on climate change in the early 1990s, the European Union has aspired to play a leading role in global climate politics.
This book engages in a longitudinal analysis of the EU’s participation in and impact on the United Nations climate regime.
It provides not only comprehensive insights into the evolution of EU foreign climate policy, but also a thought-provoking audit of the potential and limits of the EU’s influence in a major domain of global affairs.
Show Summary Details
Open access

Chapter 2. Historical Foundations (1980s–1995): EU Influence on the Set-up of the Global Climate Regime

← 46 | 47 →CHAPTER 2

Historical Foundations (1980s–1995)

EU influence on the Set-up of the Global Climate Regime

This chapter provides an overview of the early evolution of the climate regime. After a brief historical excursus, covering the period until late 1990, it analyses EU influence during the talks that ended with the adoption of the UNFCCC at the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992 (1991–1992). finally, it discusses a third phase, during which further meetings of the negotiation body that had drafted the Convention prepared for the first COP (1992–1995) (for an overview of all UN climate negotiation sessions during this period and thereafter, see Annex II).

The Pre-negotiation Phase: From Scientific Circles to first Political Negotiations

A brief discussion of the most relevant milestones during the initial international debates on climate change demonstrates, first, that agenda-setting on climate change “had functioned as a learning process with scientists as ‘teachers’ and policy-makers as ‘pupils’” (Sjöstedt 1999: 237). Second, many early discussions forcefully shape the debates until the present day (for exhaustive discussions of the historical evolution of the regime: Bodansky 1993, 1994, 2001; Pallemaerts 2004). finally, the story of the early years shows that the EU on the whole, but especially some ofits more active member states, were at the forefront of activities on climate change, with varying degrees of success.

Focusing on the scientific discussions first, although initial hypotheses on the link between atmospherical CO2 and the warming of the planet had already been advanced at the end of the 19th century, the study of climate abnormalities was only accelerated from the middle of the 20th century on, primarily in the US (Pallemaerts 2004). After systematic measurements of CO2 concentrations had been undertaken in the 1950s, US President Johnson was informed as early as 1965 by his Science Advisory Committee that the combustion of fossil fuels would “modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate, not controllable through local or national efforts, could occur” (White House 1965: 9; Bodansky 1993).

← 47 | 48 →During the 1970s, several steps were taken to further improve the scientific knowledge about long-term climatic alterations. The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm called for the installation of centres for measuring air pollution (Pallemaerts 2004: 6). In 1979, the US National Research Council concluded from first computer models that the further increase of CO2 emissions would result in climate change, and that there was “no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible” (cited in Bodansky 2001: 24). Organised by the World Meteorological Organisation in Geneva in that same year, the first World Climate Conference began to globalise knowledge of the issue by initiating a global climate research programme (Gupta 1998: 181). Started in 1980, the programme was coordinated by the WMO and the International Council for Science, later joined by the UN Environmental Programme.

In the early to mid-1980s, then, several major scientific conferences set the agenda for global political debates about how to tackle climate change (Bodansky 2001: 26–27). In 1985, a major international scientific conference in Villach, Austria, involving the WMO, UNEP and the ICSU, reunited experts from 29 – mostly European – countries, providing an overview of the state of the art of climate science and proposing the conclusion of a global treaty to counter climatic changes (Pallemaerts 2004: 7). This and similar events led to a gradual diffusion of knowledge from the scientific community to political arenas (Bodansky 1993). This trend was most visible in the US, where climatologists like James Hansen testified before Congress committees in 1988 (Bodansky 1993). At the same time, first systematic efforts to politically assess the findings of climate science were also undertaken in Europe, e.g. through an Enquête Commission of the German Parliament (Bodansky 2001: 27). Adding to a heightened political and public interest in the topic was the growing concern about the consequences of man-made damages to the ozone layer (Bodansky 2001: 27).

Three major political events would ultimately transform climate change into a political issue in this “watershed” year 1988 (Bodansky 2001: 27). In early June, governments requested the WMO and UNEP to jointly set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), thus taking a major step in creating a body that would systematize and centralize research on climate change under intergovernmental oversight (Bodansky 1993: 464, 2001: 28). Second, in the wake of the Montreal Protocol and the Brundtland report, both adopted in 1987, a “Conference on the Changing Atmosphere” was organised in Toronto in June 1988 (Bodansky 1993: 461). Assessing ozone and climate change policy options alike, the over 400 participants from 48 (Western) countries issued a statement in which they called for global reductions of atmospheric concentrations of CO2 of 20% by 2005 and the drafting of a comprehensive ← 48 | 49 →global convention to protect the atmosphere (Toronto Conference 1988: para. 22 and 30). Further, the Toronto Conference Statement made – for the first time in the context of atmospheric politics – reference to the “main responsibility” principle, which suggested that the “countries of the industrialized world are the main source of greenhouse gases and therefore bear the main responsibility to the world community” for acting against climatic changes (Toronto Conference 1988: para. 13; Bodansky 1993: 462). Third, climate change made its debut on the agenda of the UN General Assembly. In the autumn of 1988, a debate was held on Malta’s initiative of treating climate as “common heritage of mankind”. It resulted in a resolution referring to climate change as “common concern of mankind” necessitating a globally concerted response (UNGA 1989a: para. 1; Pallemaerts 2004: 9).

1989 saw an acceleration of the politicization trend of the previous years. In addition to discussions of the issue in the newly created IPCC and a call by the Paris G-7 summit for a framework convention on climate change (Bodansky 1993: 466), two significant conferences on the topic were held in the Netherlands, one of the most active European countries. In March 1989, a conference on the protection of the atmosphere in The Hague, jointly sponsored by the Dutch Prime Minister Lubbers, his Norwegian colleague Brundtland and French President Mitterrand, was attended by high-level representatives of 24 invited industrialized and developing countries (Pallemaerts 2004: 10). In their brief final declaration, the participants called for the creation of a “new institutional authority” designed to protect the atmosphere (Hague Conference 1989: principle a). More importantly, a second high-level conference was organised in Noordwijk in November 1989. Delegates from 66 countries and EC Commission President Delors met to discuss, for the first time, exclusively the issue of climate change in the framework of an intergovernmental forum (Bodansky 1993: 467; Pallemaerts 2004: 12). The final declaration included some important concepts: firstly, it defined an objective, namely that emissions should be reduced to “a level consistent with the natural capacity of the planet”, which should be reached “within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change” (Noordwijk Conference 1989: para. 8). Based on the idea that climate change was a “common concern of mankind”, it also called for the adoption of national action plans by all countries, yet “according to their capabilities and the means at their disposal”, which also meant that industrialized countries should financially help developing countries (Noordwijk Conference 1989: para. 7, 13). Observers of the process have interpreted the latter paragraphs as a clear sign that the gap between industrialized and developing countries was beginning to open in global discussions on the issue of climate change. This was combined with a growing politicization ← 49 | 50 →of the positions of the principal actors, with the developing world – due to numerical superiority – increasingly capable of affirming its position (Bodansky 1993: 467, 2001: 28; Pallemaerts 2004: 13). Concluding the year 1989, the UNGA adopted resolution A/44/862 on “The protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind”, which reiterated what conferences of the previous years had stated, i.e. the need for designing a framework convention (UNGA 1989b: para. 12). Further, it clarified that parties considered the UN to be the “appropriate forum” for negotiations on such a convention (UNGA 1989b: para. 5). With this, the decisive step in transforming climate change from a scientific concern into a topic framed as needing intergovernmental cooperation was seemingly taken (Pallemaerts 2004: 14).

1990 was marked by two major advances in terms of scientific knowledge about the climate regime. At its very end, the UN ultimately took the issue from the hands of scientists (Chasek 2001: 124–125). In August, the IPCC presented its first report including some alarming findings about unprecedented temperature rise on the assumption that a business-as-usual scenario of continued fossil fuel combustion was followed by a majority of countries (IPCC 1990). These findings were discussed at the Second World Climate Conference, held in Geneva in November 1990. Where its predecessor had been a purely scientific reunion, this conference comprised a high-level political segment, attended by representatives of 137 countries and the EU. Several parties, including the EU, Australia, Canada, the Scandinavian countries, Japan and Switzerland offered to stabilize CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by 2000 (Pallemaerts 2004: 16). Although these expressions of intent were welcomed, the final Ministerial Declaration included a more general formula, urging industrialized countries simply “to establish targets and/or feasible national programmes” (SWCC 1990: para. 12). Further, the Declaration re-iterated the differentiation between developed countries – who “must show the way” – and the developing world that was to act according to its capacities (SWCC 1990: para. 5). The whole build-up on the topic of climate change culminated in a December 1990 UNGA resolution, which launched a “unique” intergovernmental negotiation process on the adoption of a framework convention (UNGA 1990: para. 1). The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) created to this effect was placed under the authority of the UN Secretary General.1 It was to deliver its final result by June 1992, in time for the UN Earth Summit in Rio (UNGA 1990: para. 7).

← 50 | 51 →Turning to the EU’s involvement in these early talks on climate change, it is first important to note that when the topic appeared on the agendas of policy-makers in 1988, the EU(-12)’s actor capacity was fairly limited – and this despite the fact that the “Single European Act had inserted environmental protection policy into the EEC, and from the start provided for external action” (Eeckhout 2011: 141).2 Following a 1986 European Parliament resolution and report on the topic, the Commission issued a first climate-related communication in 1988, which arguably marked “the commencement of formal climate policy making” in the EU (Jordan/Rayner 2010: 53–55). In December of that same year, conclusions by the European Council then stated explicitly that “the Community and the Member States are determined to play a leading role in the action needed to protect the world’s environment”, especially regarding the “greenhouse effect” (European Council 1988: Annex I). In 1989, an Environment Council resolution confirmed this desire and demanded that the EU be effectively implicated in the international negotiations on climate change (Council 1989: point 2). A March 1990 Environment Council called for a common position on climate change to underpin this ambition (Lescher 2000: 49). Member states diverged on the core of this position, namely the adoption of an emissions reduction target. Countries like Germany and the Netherlands had already adopted quantified targets unilaterally and advocated a common European target, while the UK, despite its national target of stabilization at 1990 levels by 2005, was against taking a decision on this issue within the EC before the start of international negotiations (Jordan/Rayner 2010: 56; Lescher 2000: 50). An agreement was finally reached under the impulsion of the Environment Commissioner and the 1990 Dublin European Council conclusion. Under the heading “the environmental imperative”, the heads of state and government called on the EU to accept “a wider responsibility (…) to play a leading role in promoting concerted and effective action at global level” (European Council 1990: Annex II). This broad call for greater responsibility was translated into a specific commitment when the Environment and Energy Council adopted the position that the EU should stabilize its emissions at 1990 levels by 2000, following a recommendation by the European Commission (Pallemaerts 2004: 42; Brambilla 2004: 247). Derogations were granted to the cohesion countries (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland), but also to the UK (Lescher 2000: 50). While the EU had thus managed to forge a basic common position, its representation in international fora was, in the absence of clear rules, mostly guaranteed ← 51 | 52 →through the activities of a limited number of member states, but also of the Commission, which was now regularly invited to international meetings and conferences.

The EU’s influence on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1991–1992)

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee met five times between February 1991 and June 1992 to conclude a deal on the UNFCCC. The five-step analysis focuses on the negotiation process regarding the two key issues, major turning points in this process as well as its outcome, highlighting EU influence attempts and their effects.

The Context: Major Developments in Global Politics and Climate Science

The negotiations were kicked offin a unique context. Scientifically, the 1990 first IPCC report highlighted that the existence of the greenhouse effect and its anthropogenic causes were now undisputed, and that unprecedented global temperature rise by about 0.3°C per decade could be expected for the 21st century, while pointing also to existing uncertainties due to an incomplete understanding of sources, sinks, clouds and oceans (IPCC 1990). Politically, the fall of the Iron Curtain had altered the global balance of power and made cooperation within the UN on this truly global issue appear more likely. Beyond the UN arena, the 1989 Paris G-7 meeting had already advocated an “umbrella convention on climate change” (cited in Bodansky 1993: 466), an aim that was reiterated a year later in Houston (Sebenius 1991: 111). finally, a momentum for action on climate change had built over several years, with public pressure mounting especially in industrialized countries due to a growth in extreme weather events (Bodansky 2001: 27).

Key Actors in the Global Climate Regime and their Positions

The negotiations would essentially oppose two major negotiating blocs:3 the developing world, gathered under the G-77 and China umbrella, and the members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). A brief overview of the main positions on the two studied issues (reduction targets and CBDR principle) is followed by a discussion of the EU’s actor capacity.

← 52 | 53 →By 1991, with the exception of the US and Turkey, all OECD countries had not only formulated an emissions stabilization target, but also clarified their more general approach to these negotiations (Gupta 1998: 182; Sebenius 1991: 111). Generally, the industrialized countries accepted to lead the way in the talks and on possible commitments (Bodansky 1993: 478). Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but also most non-EU European countries were in support of the approach chosen for the ozone regime, i.e. the adoption of quantified emission reduction targets and timetables. They had mostly declared that they would be prepared to stabilize their emissions at 1988 or 1990 levels by the year 2000 (for an overview: Paterson/Grubb 1992: 301; Dasgupta 1994: 134–135). A smaller group of countries, including the US and the Soviet Union/Russia, opposed such a rigid approach. Sceptical of international regulation, the US argued against the precautionary principle and for further research and national approaches to climate change (Bodansky 2001: 28–29; Paterson/Grubb 1992: 302, 304). finally, Japan opted for an ambiguous “best efforts” approach (Paterson/Grubb 1992: 303).

At the same time, developing countries were collectively arguing for the differentiation of commitments in line with the “main responsibility” principle evoked in earlier international climate conferences, and for technological and financial aid by the industrialized countries to help the poor in their fight against climate change (Bodansky 2001: 30, 1993: 479–480; Paterson/Grubb 1992: 300). Generally, countries of the G-77/China bloc were thus not willing to consider emissions reduction efforts for themselves. Big differences existed, however, regarding the concerns about climate change: while the group of small island states (AOSIS) called for immediate action, OPEC countries questioned the science and the need for reducing emissions altogether (Paterson/Grubb 1992: 299–300; Bodansky 1993: 480–481).

When examining the European Union’s actor capacity and position before the onset of the negotiations leading to the UNFCCC, a first observation is that it had addressed the issue of climate change fairly swiftly, and had, despite the internal divergences described above, come to a common position as early as 1990 (Wettestad 2000: 28; Skjaerseth 1994: 27). Its general position was characterized by the desire for a legally binding, comprehensive international agreement which would enshrine the obligation of stabilizing emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. On the question of responsibilities, the EU acknowledged the responsibility ofindustrialized countries, without specifying what, if anything, it expected from developing countries.

While refining its position for the international negotiations, the EU also began sketching out the contours of an internal climate policy (Jordan/Rayner 2010: 57–59). In 1991, the Commission made a proposal ← 53 | 54 →for a climate package relying on four core pillars: measures to improve energy efficiency and promote the development of renewable energy sources (programmes SAVE and ALTERNER), a combined carbon and energy tax, and the set-up of a monitoring programme for greenhouse gas emissions (Wettestad 2000). It took until 1993 to finalize talks on this package: while the tax never materialized, due to opposition notably by the UK, the other proposals were gradually adopted (Jordan/Rayner 2010; Haigh 1996). The lengthy talks on these measures also implied that the Union had to try to defend, during the global negotiations, an external position not underpinned by common internal policies.

Shortly before the first INC session, on 4 February 1991, the Council decided unanimously to give the Commission the mandate to negotiate a Convention on climate change (Brambilla 2004: 165). As the European Community did not possess a legal status in the INC, it would, however, de facto be represented through the Council Presidency,4 which also made efforts to coordinate activities among all member states, arguably achieving a certain degree of uniform representation of the EU’s positions (Brambilla 2004: 165). Commission representatives did however reportedly also actively participate in the INC process, and – according to some analysts – equally played a significant role in promoting the unity and consistent representation over the course of the various presidencies (Jachtenfuchs 1996: 114–116). Despite these coordination efforts, each EU member also had its own representation (see Barrett 1991: 187, footnote 18). In the absence of a clear common negotiation strategy, the EU’s joint action would therefore often be of an ad hoc nature. It was only at the Rio summit itself that the EC was then granted the status of “full participant” through a UNGA decision, which gave it the right to attend and speak, but no rights to vote or be elected (Schumer 1996). For the summit, the Council mandated the Commission to represent the EC’s interests in all areas of exclusive competences, while it kept issues of shared competence to itself (Brambilla 2004: 165–167).

The Negotiation Process and the EU’s influence Attempts

The first two sessions of the INC (4–14 February 1991, Chantilly, Virginia; 19–28 June 1991, Geneva) were mostly dedicated to procedural matters, such as the appointment of Jean Ripert (France) as INC Chair, and the creation of two working groups (WG). WG 1 was to deal with commitments both in terms of concrete emissions reductions and in terms of finance and technology transfer, whereas WG 2 had the task of preparing the legal and institutional mechanisms that would form the backbone of the future ← 54 | 55 →convention (INC 1991a: 23; Paterson 1996: 51–56). Further, parties began to state initial positions. Draft proposals were circulated by the US, Australia, Germany and the UK (Bodansky 1993: footnotes 205 and 206). The US proposal, an “inaction plan” according to critics, underscored its opposition to quantified targets and timetables, and proposed instead a range of national policies covering all GHGs (Paterson 1996: 54). Most other proposals included clearly defined targets and timetables. On the issue of differentiation, while China and India insisted, on behalf of the G-77/China, on industrialized countries’ responsibilities, the US called for contributions from developing countries in accordance with the means at their disposal and their capabilities (Dasgupta 1994: 133). By contrast, other OECD countries and the EU were more willing to accept the “main responsibility” principle.

Substantial talks began only in the second week of INC 2. WG 1, which – due to its mandate on commitments – is of most interest here, discussed inter alia a Japanese proposal on “pledge and review”, a concept that foresaw voluntary national mitigation actions to be reviewed internationally and received support from the UK and France (Bodansky 1993: 486). Further, a compromise formula on a phased “comprehensive approach” was proposed by the UK and the US. Bridging the gap between those favouring a hard target and the US “no target” position, it introduced the ideas of using credits for GHG cuts (beyond solely carbon dioxide) and sinks, i.e. processes or activities which remove GHGs from the atmosphere such as forest or land management (Brenton 1994: 188; Bodansky 1993: 486). In both cases, the majority of EU members and the Commission were opposed to the proposals (Dasgupta 1994: 136–137).

INC 3 (9–20 September 1991, Nairobi) saw no substantial advances in either of the WGs. Only at the very end of the session a mandate was given to the co-chairs of the two groups for preparing coherent negotiating texts (INC 1991b). At INC 4 (9–20 December 1991, Geneva), “states tended to reiterate their previously enunciated positions, reintroducing proposals and language that had been omitted from the co-chairs’ drafts” (Bodansky 1993: 488). The main event of this session was a break-up of the G-77/China bloc over the definition of a common position on commitments (Bodansky 1993: 488–489). While a group of 44 countries led by China and India reiterated the stance already taken beforehand (leaving the question of industrialized countries’ emissions targets open), AOSIS proposed that developed countries stabilize their carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by 1995 and reduce them thereafter (Paterson 1996: 58). At the end of the session, delegates decided to combine the negotiating texts of both WGs into one “Consolidated Working Document”.

INC 5 (18–28 February 1992, New York) was to negotiate on this, heavily bracketed document in order to reach a final agreement. Despite a noticeable acceleration of the negotiations, it could, however, not deliver ← 55 | 56 →on this aim. While the G-77 had come to grips with a coherent position, the industrialized countries were still split on the question of commitments. Almost the entire session was thus spent with intra-OECD talks (Kjellen 1994: 160–161). The US continued to oppose targets and timetables, refusing all language about “stabilization”, while the other industrialized players generally agreed on the necessity of targets, but could not settle on their precise shape (Bodansky 1993: 490). Up to this point, the strategy of the EU and many OECD countries had been to attempt convincing the US with arguments, with European negotiators believing that it would be “possible to persuade the US of the political feasibility of committing itself” to the EU’s stabilization target (interview with Dutch negotiator Vellinga in ECO, 20 December 1991: 4–5, cited in Paterson 1996: 59). This approach changed under growing time pressure, when it became evident that a deal could only be made if a compromise with the US would be struck. No agreement could be reached, however, at this session, which forced the Chair to convene another, originally not scheduled meeting.

In the run-up to this ultimate INC session, Chair Ripert gathered the Extended Bureau, a smaller circle of around 24 delegates, the presiding officers of the two WGs and representatives of key countries including the US, China, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and – from the EU – France, Germany and the Netherlands (Bodansky 1993: footnote 242). At this meeting in Paris (15–17 April 1992), delegates unanimously convinced the Chair to produce a compromise draft for a convention (Borione/Ripert 1994: 88–89). He agreed under the condition that he would not be forced to propose text on the highly sensitive issue of targets and timetables. Arguably, this Extended Bureau meeting marked therefore a first, albeit late, major turning point in these negotiations. The Chair’s agreement to shoulder the indispensable job of eliminating brackets from the text left parties to focus on the politically most sensitive issue: how much GHG reductions would be agreed to (Chasek 2001: 130).

The two weeks in between the Extended Bureau meeting and the reconvened fifth INC meeting would prove decisive for the adoption of the Convention. Talks were held at the highest political level, for instance between the US President and both Commission President Delors and the German Chancellor Kohl (Lescher 2000: 60–61). A deal regarding the issue of commitments was finally made between the UK, supported by some EU members, and the US. In late April, UK Environment Secretary Howard visited Washington to negotiate with US State Department officials on text concerning the objective of the convention. These textual proposals were introduced at the resumed INC 5, and made it virtually unchanged into Art. 4.2(a), (b) of the UNFCCC, discussed below (Bodansky 1993: 491). In the transatlantic negotiations, Howard gave up on the EU targets and timetables approach and agreed with the US on much softer language around the ← 56 | 57 →issue of emission reductions objectives (Cass 2007: 76). The meeting must therefore be regarded as the second major turning point in this process.

The second part of INC 5 (30 April–8 May 1992, New York) marked then the final turning point in the negotiations (Chasek 2001: 130–131). On this occasion, the INC split into three WGs: one on commitments and finance led by the INC Chair, one on the objective and principles, and one on institutions, dispute settlement and final clauses. The INC discussed all elements of the Chair’s draft, and lifted final brackets by brokering compromises on the most sensitive issues, notably regarding targets and timetables (Bodansky 1993: 491). While most sections, including the one on principles (Art. 3 UNFCCC), were quickly accepted by the parties, the UK/US compromise proposal on targets initially came under heavy criticism by the developing countries and EU representatives like Environment Commissioner Ripa di Meana, who called the text “completely unacceptable” (Bodansky 1993: footnote 251). Following intense internal consultations in the G-77/China and in the EU, however, both blocs finally agreed to the text to ensure the overall deal. This latter explicitly excluded commitments for developing countries.

The Outcome: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The final product of one and a half years of negotiations was the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty signed at the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992. Its entry into force, on 21 March 1994, would require the ratification of 50 parties.

Explicitly called “framework convention” because of its general character, the UNFCCC set the climate regime an ambiguous objective: “to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner” (Art. 2 UNFCCC). This “declarative goal” did not impose any legally binding obligations on the parties, but would nevertheless acquire significance as a general point of reference in climate talks (Bodansky 1993: 451). During the period after the adoption of the Convention, the objective was interpreted very differently: some parties (like AOSIS) considered that Article 2 stipulated immediate mitigation action, whereas others believed that it indicated the need for gathering further scientific evidence of man-made climate change (Rowbotham 1996: 34; Brambilla 2004: 41).

← 57 | 58 →Central to the treaty and to the climate regime as such are the five principles listed in its Article 3: the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, the principle of equity, the precautionary principle, the principle of sustainable development, and the principle of free trade. These principles were perceived as “interpretation aides” for the treaty by some, whereas others regarded them as “subjective rights” which may grant parties certain privileges (Ott 1996: 65; Bodansky 1993: 501). The relative uncertainty about their status caused controversies which would shape negotiations for decades to come after the Rio summit.

The Convention further defined various obligations, distinguishing between general and specific duties, applicable to different groups of parties. General obligations for all parties were stipulated in Articles 4.1 (information and data collection requirements), 5 (research and systematic observation), 6 (education, training and public awareness) and 12.1 (reporting). A major distinction between groups of countries was made through Annex I, which lists the OECD countries. According to Articles 4.2(a) and (b), negotiated during the UK/US meeting prior to the decisive INC session, each Annex I party “shall adopt national policies and take corresponding measures on the mitigation of climate change, by limiting its anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting and enhancing its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs. These policies and measures will demonstrate that developed countries are taking the lead in modifying longer-term trends in anthropogenic emissions consistent with the objective of the Convention” (Art. 4.2(a) UNFCCC). Further, in “order to promote progress to this end, each of these Parties shall communicate, within six months of the entry into force of the Convention (…) detailed information on its policies and measures (…), as well as on its resulting projected anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases (…) with the aim of returning individually or jointly to their 1990 levels these anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases” (Art. 4.2(b) UNFCCC, emphasis added). Interpreted as the “heart of the UNFCCC” at the time of the entry into force of the treaty (Mintzer/Leonard 1994), this article never really acquired any substantial significance thereafter due to both the soft formulation of the target and its lack of legal bindingness. The Convention itself called for a review of the adequacy of the substantial provisions of these paragraphs (Art. 4.2(d) UNFCCC). finally, the treaty included further specific obligations for Annex I parties in terms of more wide-reaching reporting duties (Art. 12.2 UNFCCC) and for Annex II parties (Annex I minus economies in transition) regarding the financial assistance and technology transfer to developing countries (Art. 4.2 UNFCCC) (Depledge 2005: 21).

For the purpose of this study, the discussed obligations for different groups of parties and the principles of Article 3 represent certainly the ← 58 | 59 →most significant provisions of the treaty, as they embody the core pillars of the climate regime. Other aspects of the UNFCCC nevertheless need to be highlighted. Its Article 7 created the conference of the parties as the main decision-making body in the regime. The COP adopts its own rules of procedure. It meets once yearly. Moreover, a secretariat (Art. 8 UNFCCC) and two Subsidiary Bodies were created (Art. 9 and 10 UNFCCC). In terms of procedures, the UNFCCC foresaw consensus or, as a last resort, a “three-fourths majority vote of the Parties present and voting” for the adoption of amendments (Art. 15.3 UNFCCC) and consensus on the adoption of a Protocol (Art. 17) (Pallemaerts/Williams 2006: 36–37). Further, the Convention included provisions on various key issues like the financial mechanism (Art. 11) and dispute settlement (Art. 14), whose significance has been discussed elsewhere (Yamin/Depledge 2004: chaps. 10, 12). finally, it is important to mention that the UNFCCC provided for flexible ways of implementation, as it allowed inter alia for a joint implementation of policies by different parties (Art. 4.1 (a) and (d) UNFCCC).

Assessing and Explaining the EU’s influence Attempts and influence during the Negotiations on the UNFCCC

The UNFCCC laid the formal foundations for the global climate regime whose development is analysed in this work. As the deliberations leading up to its adoption provide a first insight into the dynamics of global climate talks, they convey significant background information for the study of subsequent negotiation rounds. Further, their analysis allows for tracing the EU’s influence attempts and influence over time.5

To establish the Union’s influence on the two issues selected for in-depth inspection in this work, a closer look needs to be taken at the three turning points identified for the INC negotiation process. The first turning point – the Extended Bureau Meeting in April 1992 – facilitated bargaining among parties and thus ultimately decision-making on the UNFCCC. It was thus crucial for the overall outcome of the talks, but did not lead to any concrete decisions on the key items analysed here, and can thus be neglected. By contrast, turning point 2 (on targets), i.e. the preparatory meeting between the US and the UK, as well as the third identified turning point at INC 5 (on both issues) marked central milestones regarding the key pillars of the regime. At these points in time, the EU’s influence can be established by zooming in on the negotiation processes ← 59 | 60 →and carrying out the conditional causal analysis based on the five constitutive dimensions of the concept of influence.

Before assessing the EU’s influence, a word should be said about its actor capacity. The story of the negotiation process illustrated that it may be difficult to treat the EU as a uniform actor in the context of the INC talks. Assessments of its capacity have been contradictory: while some observers of the process have gone as far as remarking that “the EC (as opposed to its Member States) in fact only played a limited role in the negotiations leading to the Climate Change Convention” (Haigh 1996: 181), others noted that the “member states and the Community were intertwined in such a way that the EC could be seen as a unitary actor ­using multilateral diplomatic channels” (Sbragia 1998: 298–299). In final analysis, the evaluation of the Union’s capacity is not as much a matter of opinion than of the definition of EU foreign policy one employs. In this work, EU foreign policy is considered the sum of the activities of EU institutions and member states, if the latter contribute to an overall EU objective. And even if one cannot speak of “the EU” without a certain degree of caution for this period, one can certainly speak of a common European position. Even if member states acted thus seemingly inside and outside an EU context – and some, notably the UK and France, did so more than once in this process –, their activities must be interpreted as a contribution to European influence if they advanced the Union’s overall aims. While this is not to imply that the EU possessed full actor capacity during the entire period, its loose coordination ensured a degree of coherent representation through the Presidency and other member states at key moments in the talks.

This minimum degree of coherence, but also the individual foreign policy activities of EU member states ensured that it managed to exert some influence on the creation of the climate regime to partially reach its aims in these negotiations. In the words of (then non-EU country) Sweden’s negotiator Kjellen, “without doubt, Washington and various EC capitals were the central actors in the final phase of negotiations” (Kjellen 1994: 163). A closer look at the two issues of interest in this study, the emission reduction objective and the CBDR principle, brings greater clarity to this general assessment. first, the emissions reduction targets embodied in the overall objective of Arts. 2 and 4.2 (b) resulted from an obvious compromise reached at the first relevant turning point between the US opposition to targets and the EU’s desire to stabilize emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000 (Bodansky 1993: 491). Throughout the entire negotiation process, the EU had, via the Council Presidency and most ofits member states, promoted its stabilization goal for the year 2000, particularly by attempting to “convince the US to change its position” on this item (Sbragia 1998: 298–299; Paterson 1996: 59). At early stages in the process, the Union had tried to ← 60 | 61 →persuade the Americans through arguments only. A close inspection of the activities surrounding the decisive turning point that ultimately led to the agreement on the targets demonstrates that it was only when the EU shifted into a bargaining mode that a final agreement became possible. According to numerous commentators, not least the INC Chair himself, the UK’s role – especially through the meeting between Environment Secretary Howard and the US State Department negotiators prior to INC 5, part 2 – was “pivotal to reaching [this] agreement”, which was then introduced and formally accepted by the totality of parties at that session (Borione/Ripert 1994: 83; Cass 2007: 76). When visiting the US, Howard had the support from some of his European colleagues, but “whether this can be regarded an EC contribution is a matter of opinion” (Lescher 2000: 61; Haigh 1996: 181). Formally, he had certainly no EU mandate to compromise on the Union’s targets and timetables approach, but it appeared as clear at the time that a bargain was in any case inevitable, if the Union was to reach its overarching goal of getting to an agreement that included the US as the biggest emitter at all. According to Haigh’s counterfactual interpretation, “without the machinery provided by the EC for discussion between ministers it [Howard’s deal with the US] may not have happened” (1996: 181–182). The UK on its own would certainly have lacked the clout to negotiate a deal with the US and subsequently defend this against the entire rest of the world (OECD and G-77/China). In that sense, the UK’s activities may be regarded – ex post – as a form of implicit task-sharing within the EU.6 Through the activities of several member states which contributed to its overall aims, the EU was thus able to exert influence on the negotiations and final outcome on this issue. All the necessary conditions for establishing influence are indeed fulfilled: the Union stated its position early in the process, and clearly was, together with some other OECD countries (e.g. Canada), among the agenda-setters for this item (temporal sequence); it interacted closely with other major players, notably the US (interaction), and with a clear intention of impacting on these actors to alter the final outcome of negotiations (purposive behaviour); moreover, it attained its minimum objective of having some, albeit vague target mentioned in the treaty (partial goal attainment). finally, in counterfactual perspective, the slight US change of position during the final negotiation stages must be regarded as the result of other parties’ pressure, first and foremost the EU’s, rather than ofinternal developments in Washington, as further explored below (absence of auto-causation). Second, concerning the issue of responsibilities, i.e. “who ← 61 | 62 →should do what” when it comes to reducing emissions, the inclusion of the CBDR principle and, moreover, the distinction between groups of countries (Annex I and the rest) was a rather uncontroversial matter throughout the negotiation process, formally agreed to by all parties at INC 5, part 2. Both developing and developed countries supported it, but for different reasons. For the developing world, the industrialized countries had the “main historic responsibility”, while for the industrialized countries, notably the US, the emphasis placed on their greater financial and technical capabilities was of key importance (Bodansky 1993: 503; Steffek 2005). The inclusion of this provision can thus be interpreted largely as a consensual general agreement, and a significant success of the developing world, enabled through a deliberately ambiguous formulation allowing for different interpretations at the time of adoption – and afterwards (Steffek 2005: 239). The EU had remained very timid on this issue throughout the negotiation process, respecting the concerns of the developing world without actively lobbying for them. As necessary conditions for attributing influence (purposive behaviour, interaction) are thus unfulfilled, it can be concluded that the Union did not exert any influence on this item.

While it is thus possible to establish that the EU exerted influence on the negotiations pertaining to the creation of the UN climate regime with regard to the issue of targets, the determination of its share of influence demands further counterfactual argumentation. first, when it comes to assessing the EU’s share of influence vis-à-vis other OECD countries (besides the US), even if it was certainly not the only actor demanding a change in position from the US, it was the most fervent defender of the 2000 stabilization target within the OECD. It must thus be considered as very plausible that it was above all the EU that ensured “the adoption of a convention with a soft stabilisation target for all industrialised countries” (Yamin 2000: 49). With this, it achieved its minimum objective, pushing the US – against its will – towards some form of a target short of its red line. Second, when assessing the relative influence of the EU and the US on the final deal reflected in the UNFCCC, Haigh credits the EU with having determined the overall approach of stating a target in the treaty at all: “Despite its non-binding character, Article 4 (2) of the Convention would certainly have been much weaker without the EC’s prior position” (Haigh 1996: 162). Yet, the US strategy of holding out had equally been successful in fighting off binding targets in the short term (Paterson 1996: 62; see also Nitze 1994 who speaks of a “success for US diplomacy”): “had the U.S. not taken such a hard line on commitments, the Convention would no doubt have been stronger” (Hunter et al. 2002: 618). Even so, the US did concede a partial defeat regarding its aim of completely avoiding any mention of targets (Paterson 1996: 62). The EU and US shares of influence on the final outcome regarding this item were thus of comparable magnitude.

← 62 | 63 →In synthesis, the overall degree of EU influence must be assessed as medium. The extent of the EU’s goal attainment was clearly medium: the Union ensured its minimal aims of concluding a treaty comprising the biggest emitter and some form of a target for industrialized countries, but did not attain its ultimate objective of including legally binding targets and timetables in the Convention. The durability of the outcome must equally be assessed as medium: the UNFCCC is an international treaty that is still in force and provides the central point of reference for the global climate regime, but the pillars of this treaty, the targets and principles, are of a soft nature, characterized by a limited degree of bindingness. Further in line with the typology of influence (see Chapter 1), the EU’s influence on the objective of the climate regime (Art. 2 UNFCCC) can be characterized as more enduring (Bodansky 1993: footnote 296) than that of the US, albeit only in default of stronger bargaining leverage: in retrospect, the Union helped to ensure the adoption of a treaty that would determine all global climate negotiations that followed (Schröder 2001: 36). It not only contributed to the fact that a target was mentioned in the treaty, but also to the necessity to review the adequacy of this target (Art. 4.2 (a), (b), (d) UNFCCC). US influence on the treaty negotiations, by contrast, was more short-term, bargaining-based and instantaneous, allowing it to reach immediate aims in line with preferences that were essentially less related to climate change than to domestic debates about potential losses of competitiveness and jobs under a strict emission reductions regime.

Tentative explanations of the EU’s influence may be found in the fact that it had a fairly coherent, basic position on key items under negotiation and that some member states were willing and able to advance this position actively and through a variety of channels in the negotiations. The limits to this influence regarding the adoption of a more ambitious target, notably vis-à-vis the US, can be explained by internal factors and one significant external variable.

Concerning internal factors, without an established foreign policy system and the necessary instruments, the EU did not possess the tool-kit to devise a common strategy that would have built enough momentum among OECD countries to convince the US of the necessity to integrate legally binding targets into the treaty. Arguing as prime negotiation strategy was clearly insufficient in the negotiation context and proved therefore also unsuccessful. Moreover, internal divisions – the UK acting partially outside the EU framework with Howard’s visit to the US, but also on issues such as Japan’s “pledge and review” proposal – hampered a better strategic performance. The UK’s attitude may be explained by preferences that slightly diverged from those of France, Germany or the Netherlands, notably in its desire to use all its leverage and its “relationship with the US to constrain European foreign policy” and, most importantly, the Commission (Cass ← 63 | 64 →2007: 65, 76). Intra-EU foreign policy objectives of specific countries thus limited the effectiveness of the Union’s external activity as a collective actor, preventing it from a potentially greater influence on the global scene. Given these internal constraints, the deal eventually struck between the UK and the US was maybe the best the EU on the whole could have achieved.

A major set of external factors limiting EU influence in these negotiations is to be seen in the overall importance, power and difficult bargaining position of the US. Its importance was not so much due to its economic and technological state of advancement, but simply to the nature of the problem: a treaty without the US – as the largest emitter – would have left a large share of global emissions uncovered by any global agreement. So it was ultimately the US lifestyle and domestic political debates circling around competitiveness concerns that guaranteed its de facto “veto power” in the negotiations, and allowed the George H.W. Bush administration to hold out until the end with a position that “represented a triumph of election year politics over environmental science” (Harrison 2000: 107; Paterson 1996: 99–100). Against such resistance, the individual foreign policies of the other parties to the negotiation process were obviously not sufficiently compelling. By consequence, all players made the strategic choice to accommodate US concerns, as they were unwilling “to sign an agreement without the participation of the US. These countries determined for themselves that an otherwise well-structured convention with non-binding language on short-term targets that could be signed by the US was preferable to a similar convention with binding language that was not signed by the US” (Nitze 1994: 188; also Dasgupta 1994: 149).

The Road to COP 1 (1992–1995)

During the post-Rio period, and while awaiting the ratification and entry into force of the treaty, the notion of “prompt start” had gained ground: between 1992 and the first conference of the parties in March 1995, six further meetings of the INC were held in order to deal as quickly as possible with issues related to the operationalization of the regime and to prepare for the review of the “adequacy of commitments” stipulated in Art. 4.2(d) UNFCCC (Bodansky 1994: 34). Although discussions during this period did not per se focus on the two key issues of targets and responsibilities, the further development of the treaty-based regime was evoked at several INC meetings, albeit without any substantial results. This section therefore provides only a brief trace of these taks in search of EU influence (attempts).

In the EU, the ratification process was used to hold discussions on how the stabilization target of Art. 4(2) UNFCCC could be fulfilled. Talks soon stalled over the question of whether the Union should adopt a carbon dioxide and energy “eco-tax” (Lescher 2000: 69; Jordan/Rayner 2010: 60–61). ← 64 | 65 →Proponents of this measure (above all the Commission, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium) tried to make the joint ratification of the UNFCCC conditional on the adoption of such a tax, but did not succeed against other EU members, especially the UK, which was most strongly opposed to the idea of common European taxation (Lescher 2000: 69, 72). While the ratification of the UNFCCC was finally achieved in February 1994 (Council 1994a), the tax never came (Pallemaerts 2004: 43; Haigh 1996). Instead, the EU adopted an “essentially symbolic” package of measures aimed at the promotion of energy efficiency (SAVE programme) and renewable energies (ALTENER programme) as well as a decision to create a monitoring mechanism for GHG emissions in the EU (Pallemaerts 2004: 43–44). At the same time, no substantial advances were made regarding the definition of a common EU position on further GHG reductions. To better deal with internal struggles about this issue, the Environment Council created, in October 1994, an ad hoc working group of national climate experts. The group was charged with mediating between EU members in order to prepare the Union’s negotiation position for COP 1, effectively taking, at least to some extent, the right of initiative out of the hands of the Commission (Lescher 2000: 72).7 Although the creation of this group did not immediately result in a substantial common position for COP 1 (Schumer 1996), it did represent a major institutional innovation: the permanent institutionalization of a forum for exchanges between member states on issues related to global climate policy. In the global arena, although the UNFCCC was not yet in force, the EC was already treated as a party to the Convention. A regional economic integration organisation (REIO) clause inserted in Art. 22 UNFCCC, endowed it with all the rights of a full member to the INC (Lescher 2000: 73). In practice, the Council Presidency would exercise these rights on behalf of the Union, representing it in all fora.

Turning to the global debates, sessions 6 to 8 of the INC (7–10 December 1992, Geneva; 15–20 March 1993, New York; 16–27 August 1993, Geneva) started slowly, dealing with practical issues related to the operationalization of the regime. Much time was spent on consultations regarding the modalities of technology transfer and the financial mechanisms, without any significant advances (INC 1992, 1993a, 1993b). Among the most interesting decisions taken during these sessions was the election of a new President and Bureau. At INC 7, the Argentinean Raul Estrada-Oyuela, who would later play a decisive role during the Kyoto Protocol talks, took over from Jean Ripert. Further, the landscape of negotiation blocs changed when the OECD countries split ← 65 | 66 →into two groups: the EU-12(/15 from 1995 on) and the newly formed JUSCANZ (Japan, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) coalition.

It was only during the final three sessions of the Committee (7–18 February 1994, Geneva; 22 August–2 September 1994, Geneva; 6–17 February 1995, New York) that Working Group 1 on “commitments” actually took up topics related to a further development of the climate regime, when it started discussing the “adequacy of commitments”, as stipulated in the Convention (Oberthür 1994: 299). At INC 10, Germany, the designated host of the first conference of the parties, introduced a paper with “elements of a protocol for [consideration at] COP 1”, which stated, inter alia, that Annex I parties should reduce their CO2 emissions “by the year (x) (…) by (y) %”; the paper was, however, not discussed at this session (Oberthür 1994: 299). Instead, parties could only generally agree on the necessity of pursuing further emissions reduction efforts, without specifying in what framework such efforts should be carried out, leaving commentators to compare the slow pace of the talks to the first INC sessions in 1991 (Oberthür 1994: 299, 302–303).

Shortly after INC 10, the time window for substantive proposals for a new protocol or agreement to be discussed at COP 1 was effectively closed. Although the Convention was not yet ratified, parties operated under the assumption that proposals for any new legal agreement would have to be submitted six months before its (potential) adoption, as stipulated by the so-called “six-month rule” of Art. 17.2 UNFCCC. Before this deadline in late September 1994, only two parties provided written submissions that fulfilled the rule. The first comprehensive proposal had been introduced by AOSIS. It suggested the adoption of a protocol to the Convention, whose Article 3 would introduce “targets for greenhouse gas reductions” requiring that “each Annex I country shall reduce its 1990 level of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide by at least 20 percent by the year 2005” (INC 1994a). Non-Annex I parties could make commitments on a voluntary basis (INC 1994a: Art. 3.3). A couple of days later, referencing the AOSIS proposal and target, Germany presented a more formal version of its “elements paper”, sketching out some key components for a future framework convention. The German submission re-stated the stabilization target for carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000 (at 1990 levels) and called for a reduction thereafter (INC 1994b: I.1). The precise scope of reductions as well as the target year were, however, not specified (INC 1994b: I.1). Some parties, like the Netherlands or Denmark, supported the Toronto target of 20% CO2 reductions by the year 2005, linking thus the EU’s to the AOSIS approach, while such numbers were completely unacceptable for other OECD countries, notably the US (Victor/Salt 1994: 28; Lescher 2000: 75). INC 11 continued talks on this agenda item and held, as the Chair’s report notes, “fruitful and constructive, but not fully conclusive discussions”, which ultimately ended without decisions (INC 1995: 50).


1The set-up of the INC under UN auspices has been interpreted as a success of the developing world Many industrialized countries had preferred negotiating in technical bodies such as the WMO or UNEP (Bodansky 1993: 473–474)

2Article 130r, para 5 SEA read: “Within their respective spheres of competence, the Community and the Member States shall co-operate with third countries and with the relevant international organizations (…) without prejudice to Member States’ competence to negotiate in international bodies and to conclude international agreements”

3Another group was composed of the ex-Warsaw Pact states of Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, including Russia This group arguably did not play a big role in these talks: while Russia often sided with the US, the other countries tended to support EU positions (Paterson/Grubb 1992: 304)

4In 1991, Luxembourg and the Netherlands held the Council Presidency, followed by Portugal in the first half of 1992

5The analysis of this period is primarily based on document research and secondary literature as well as the statements of negotiators and observers of the talks (see, eg, the contributions in Mintzer/Leonhard 1994)

6That some member state representatives and Commissioner Ripa di Meana first rejected the US/UK compromise might not have been a sign of EU unity, but can also be interpreted as personal frustration about an outcome that was much less ambitious than what these personalities had hoped for

7The novelties of the Treaty of Maastricht, in force since late 1993, and their consequences for the Union’s foreign climate policy are discussed in the relevant section of Chapter 3 on the EU’s role in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations