EU’s ambitious green plan

March 14, 2007

Member states of the EU agreed on 9 March to go for a unilateral cut of greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 1990 levels as a bid to control the effect of climate change.> It will be an EU-wide commitment and will not be changed without any regard to the outcome of international negotiation under Kyoto Protocol or any concerted efforts from other states. If it is finalized as suggested, this commitment will be translated into a directive of the EU and will eventually be transposed into national law. The UK has already been moving along this direction by proposing a bill to set greenhouse gases emission targets up to 2050 on 13 March. <>

This commitment to cut emissions seems to suggest a success of international institution (the EU) in providing a model of global governance to impose self-restraint and to set norms on state behaviors as advocated by liberal institutionalists. Can this also be understood with realist mentality? The commitment may have these gains and losses. On the gain side, the EU will lead the international negotiations on climate change. More investment will be directed into the renewable energy or other environmentally sound business sectors which are strategically important in long run. It will make its business sectors more competitive in the global market due to their enhanced energy efficiency. On the negative side, there may be rise in energy bills because of the scarcity of clean energy sources. The energy-intensive industries will be less competitive in global market because of the extra investment needed.

If the EU commitment is driven by realist calculation, we may need to answer why realist in the
US does not arrive to the same conclusion.

Shermann and Joseph


5 Responses to “EU’s ambitious green plan”

  1. edwardng Says:

    The functionalist views that “ form follows function” that cooperation will only be effective if states seek to focus on a particular and specific activities. * With regard to the agreement reached by the EU states, the functionalists may argue that the cooperation of the EU states work is successful so far because they have narrowed the environmental agenda to a single topic – on the greenhouse gas emission. Otherwise, if the states were so ambitious that the agreement on environmental protection should have a wider scope, they might not compromise a workable agreement. On the other hand, from a realist point of view, the EU states may consider that if they have such an agreement in advance, they would be in a more advantageous position in response to other states who would engage in negotiating under the Kyoto Protocol – that is, the EU would use this as an evidence that they had been the pioneers of reduction of greenhouse gas and that the agreement that binds and are already accepted by the EU states would be viewed as a proposal that would enjoy a higher chance of success as compared to proposals made by non-EU states in the future Kyoto Protocol negotiaition. Also, the EU states might also expect that the development of the industries related to envionmentally friendly fuels and products within their countries would be buttressed and stimulated by such an agreement. With enhanced quality and reduction of production cost from investment, their products would probably enjoy a more competitive position as compared to their counterparts of non-EU states.
    * Chris Brown , “Understanding International Relations”, p.119.

  2. Philip Poon Says:

    I agree with Edward on his anaysis of “Form follows function”. Moreover, according to Susan Strange, in her posthumus article of “The Westfailure System”, there are global transnational threats that the Westphalia system of nation states will not be able to solve. One of them, she quoted, was global warming. From this perspective, liberal IR theory can explain the EU’s move to cut greenhouse gas emission.
    However, from the realist point of view, the successful implementation of the agreement within EU states remains to be seen.
    Firstly, it was reported that several countries of the former Soviet bloc, which rely heavily on cheap coal and oil for their energy,would have huge problem complying with the requirement. There were also reports that the EU would agree that different individual targets would be allowed for each of the 27 members to meet the renewable energy goal. That means the game would fall back to the realist theory of national interests, and comparative advantage. As Chris Brown stated in page 122 of our text book, it involves again the distribution of who gets what, where and when by individual member states.
    It is also interesting to note that even environmental group, Friends of the Earth called the EU agreement “timid and tentative”.
    As for the US, their policy towards global warming can best be described by realist IR theory. They thwarted Kyoto Protocol based on their calculation of “comarative gain” vis-a-vis the developing countries, in particular China. Then in a Washington Summit on climate change held in February 2007, the US sought to take the lead in seeking developing countries to meet targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, as well as rich countries. The declaration, though non-binding, included legislators from G8 plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. It’s clear that the US wants to take the lead as the world’s no. one power on this issue without forsaking its own national interest of comparative gain and economic development.

  3. hoiking Says:

    When I was watching the news on Britain’s proposed bill on cutting greenhouse gas a few nights ago on BBC news, one thing which particularly strikes me is the fact presented by the reporter: Britain’s greenhouse gas emission makes up roughly about 2% of the total emission. Some may argue that, the reporter says, the action taken by the British government may prove trivial, but with the addition of action from other EU governments, it might build up pressure for US and China to take action against climate change. But such outcome, as argued by the reporter, remains to be seen.

    As Edward provided an excellent analysis from the realist perspective, I think I can come up with another point: the role of Russia. Europe has been increasingly reliant on Russia’s energy supply (somehow as a reaction to the instability in the Middle East), as it can been seen through the disruption on supply when Russia is in dispute with her neighbors, like Ukraine and Belarus. While European nations are rushing to build direct pipelines to Russia to ensure the stability of supply (Russia just signed such an agreement with Bulgaria and Greece on Thursday), the unreliability of Russia serves as a reminder to the European nations that Russia, in long term, is not a “trustworthy” partner. With this and the civil/governmental action to deal with the looming threat of climate change, this could hasten the development of alternate energy, or as in Edward’s words, “environmentally friendly fuels and products”.

    Could the European action be a mixture of both realist and liberalist action? Just my two cents.

  4. Adam Blinick Says:

    I can’t help but feel that–in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and the Kyoto protocol–the EU is largely talking to itself. The U.S., China, and India, to mention but a few, won’t implement such a program that would greatly economically hamper them or retard their development. I should mention that Canada has already pulled out of Kyoto after it increased its emissions by 25% since signing on to the accord. This is not to say that the U.S.–or China and India, for that matter–may not look for ways of becoming more green, only that it will look for a solution that best fits its needs, i.e. increase energy efficiencies, reduce dependence on unstable states, improve air quality etc.

    Also, I think one should doubt whether the EU will be able to follow through with its stated objective. One issue of concern already seen is EU states’ dependence on Russia for natural gas–a cleaner alternative to oil. Russia has proven to be quite an unreliable supplier, as demonstrated by its recent quarrels with the Ukraine and Belarus. At the end of the day, the EU may have to privilege practical needs over environmental desires (though, admittedly, they do not have to be exclusive) when keeping itself warm in the dead of winter.

    I guess you could consider me a realist/skeptic on this matter.

  5. Daisy Says:

    At the heart of the Kyoto Protocol lies the notion that developed countries, which generated more green house gas (GHG) during industrializations, should encourage developing countries, such as China and India, to generate less GHG via economic incentives. Carbon Credits, under such a regime, then become tradable instruments in which companies like Emissions Trading PLC, which was floated on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market in 2005, are investing.
    Yet U.S. the world No. 1 GHG generator refuses to rectify the protocol, as the realists put it, because of the calculations of relative gain. From a realist point of view, EU’s move would do little in luring the U.S. to step up its effort in reducing GHG emission. Yet, from a liberalist’s perspective, the Kyoto Protocol, with 169 countries and governments rectifying it, has already created a critical scale that foster, for example, the Carbon Credits market that perhaps will emerge as the most powerful tool in coping with the global warming issue. Americans may still stick to their own calculation of relative gains, but they are ignoring a whole new industry nurtured in EU and UK.

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