EU environment ministers tackle climate change in Prague

Вацлав Клаус

EU environment ministers came to the end of a two day informal meeting in Prague on Wednesday. The talks have been dominated by one subject - climate change – which is a major issue for the Czech EU presidency.

The talks broke down into two areas. The first concerns moves at European level to better prepare countries for the impact of climate change which looks like it will be much more varied across the continent and, for some regions, much more severe than first predicted.

The second looks forward to a key global climate change conference at the end of the year in Copenhagen which should thrash out what commitments countries give over cutting greenhouse gases. EU ministers are attempting to work out exactly what they can put on the table.

Recent findings suggest that climate change will be swifter and more severe in Europe than suggested two years ago. Even if Europe keeps to its pledge of cutting greenhouse gases over the next decades, those emissions already out there will still be having an impact. Violent weather changes are predicted across the board.

Some areas will be worse hit. Coastal areas will be threatened by floods from rising sea levels. Alpine glaciers will retreat quicker and major changes in rainfall patterns mean those living near rivers are more likely to face flooding. Southern Europe will be faced by more droughts with the more than a third of Europe facing severe water supply problems by 2070. Less water is likely to flow into the Czech Republic’s famous lakes and ponds threatening them with stagnation and the country’s forests are also likely to suffer.

Chantal Jouanno  (French Secretary of State for Ecology),  Martin Bursík,  photo: CTK
The ministers are at the early stages of piecing together what is described as an adaption strategy at EU level, which should be ready within three years. This will be very far reaching covering everything from agricultural policy, to health and business. There are economic questions for example whether public insurance schemes should be created for people living in flood plains because private insurance companies might simply refuse them cover. Of course, a lot of preparations will be done at national and regional level with some countries having already drafted their own national plans for tackling climate change.

At the global level, the EU prides itself in setting the world agenda on climate change. So, ministers are at the moment trying to thrash out what they can bring to the table at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. It is hoped that the conference will result in a new global deal setting out what cuts in greenhouse gases will be made by developed countries, including the US, and what promises will be made by fast growing developing countries like India and China to help them curb growth in their emissions.

The negotiations are still very much a poker game with countries still keeping their offers close to their chests. However, Czech Environment Minister Martin Bursík seemed upbeat. Part of that optimism stems from the fact that the new US administration of President Barack Obama is serious about tackling climate change and seems ready to make a serious offer to cut its emissions. But the EU will not be saying for a few months yet how many tens of billions of dollars it will give developing countries to cut their emissions to get them on board as well against climate change.