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CLIMATE CHANGE: East Europe, Developed or Developing?

Claudia Ciobanu - IPS/TerraViva*

COPENHAGEN, Dec 11 2009 (IPS) - The European Union is presenting itself as a united front during negotiations in the Copenhagen climate change conference. But East European countries insist that they are developing nations and prefer to limit their aid and emissions commitments.

Poland takes fossil of the day award. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

Poland takes fossil of the day award. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

“All the EU aid money comes from every country, even the poorest one,” said Andres Turesson, negotiator for Sweden (the country currently holding the presidency of the EU), in a show of EU unity.

But at the end of October, nine East European leaders negotiated with the rest of the EU to reduce the amounts they would contribute to the total aid amount to be committed by the union to the developing world during the 15th Conference of Parties (COP-15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov declared that his country had “saved” 40-50 million euros (60 – 73 million US dollars) in this way.

It is still not clear whether this “saving” for Eastern Europe lowered the total aid amount the EU decided to commit (2.4 billion euros or 3.5 billion dollars annually, as announced in Brussels on Friday).

The prevalent view in the region is that the former communist countries are too heavily burdened by their own development needs to be able to send aid to countries in the global South.

Even environmental groups agree that the contributions made by the various EU members to external aid should be differentiated. Friends of the Earth (FoE) calls for a scheme in which the share of aid to be contributed by every country would be calculated taking into account the levels of emissions produced and GDP.

At Copenhagen, Poland, the largest and most influential East European country in the EU, argues that if it makes any financial pledges they must be purely voluntary. Under the framework of the Kyoto Protocol, Poland and the other East European states are included in Annex 1 of industrialised countries, but not in Annex 2 of industrialised countries which must pay for the costs of developing ones.

“East European countries do have a historical responsibility towards the global South which cannot be ignored,” Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of FoE Europe and a Pole herself, told TerraViva. Eastern Europe industrialised at the same pace as Western Europe during the 20th century – albeit under a socialist rather than capitalist system – so it is an equal contributor to global warming.

“But it is also true that they are less developed, so they cannot pay as much as Western Europe,” added Stoczkiewicz. “It is important to build up more solidarity inside the EU,” she explained. This would allow for the total aid given by the EU not to be lowered while not overburdening the still developing Eastern Europe.

East European countries are also posing problems in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions. During the fourth day of the Copenhagen talks, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, head of the European Committee of the Polish council of ministers, declared in Brussels that the EU’s plan to reduce GhG emissions by 30 percent by 2020 on 1990 levels has no chance of being accepted by all members of the EU.

Over 90 percent of Poland’s electricity comes from coal.

Poland took the “Fossil of the Day” award in Copenhagen Thursday for actively blocking the proposed upgrade of the EU’s emissions reduction target to 30 percent from 20 percent.

“Poland is afraid of committing to 30 percent emission reductions because this would mean they will have to slow down their economy,” said Stoczkiewicz.

The FoE director said that most Polish leaders think that they can only reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2020 on 1990 levels if they start developing nuclear power.

“That is because the leaders have not done their work properly over the last 20 years,” Stoczkiewicz thinks. “The knowledge on renewables was there 20 years ago but it was not applied in Poland. And the development vision which dominates most political heads is one of continuous economic growth.”

And Poland is no exception. GhG emissions decreased in the region in the early 1990s, but they are estimated to have risen by 11 percent between 2004 and 2010. Increased car ownership and consumerism are largely to blame for this.

East Europe is unlikely to be a serious obstacle to a Copenhagen agreement. But its positions might make it difficult in the future for the EU to stick to its commitments of emission reduction.

* This story appears in the IPS TerraViva online daily published for the COP 15 at Copenhagen.

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