Europe Must Continue to be a Driving Force for Change

Europe Must Continue to be a Driving Force for Change

In 1988, Malta launched an initiative for a United Nations Resolution on the ‘Conservation of Climate as part of the Common Heritage of Mankind’. An island state which has much to lose from rising sees, Malta is proud that despite its size and limitations, this move led to the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Retired ambassador Francis Cachia reflects on Malta’s past and future roles as well as where Europe stands on climate change.

Climate Change: Wonderful Copenhagen to valiant Valletta

by Francis Cachia

The year 2009 ended and the year 2010 began with woeful prophecies of doom and gloom by some and joyful forecasts of hope and happiness by others. In the usual metaphor, the optimists see the glass as half full and the pessimists as half empty. Realists must acknowledge that the fate of the world can go either way.

“Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen”, home of Hans Christian Andersen, the famous teller of fairy-tales, hosted in the first weeks of December 2009 the United Nations sponsored summit of world leaders on climate change.

This is what gave rise to contrasting expression of strong hope or near despair. The climax of the summit was reached on Friday, 18 December, when US President Barack Obama joined the other world leaders in the beautiful Danish capital city.

Since no agreement was reached that day, the conference was extended to Saturday. It was largely through the American President’s unremitting efforts and those of the General Secretary of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon, who allowed himself only two hours sleep at night that the “Copenhagen Accord” was reached at all!

It was also just as well that the global warming conference was not further extended as ironically enough, extremely cold weather would have left many world leaders stranded in Copenhagen where they were discussing ‘Global Warming’: Europe was in for its coldest spell in decades!

The bottom line is that though it was labelled as a weak agreement, the “Copenhagen Accord” did indeed, send out a strong message to the powers that be in the world at large.

Art of the possible

Politics has been called, “The art of the possible.” Bearing this in mind can help one conclude that the Copenhagen meeting of world leaders was a positive achievement for which President Obama’s statesmanship and persistence should be given much of the credit.

As was not the case with 1997 Kyoto Protocol, major powers including the USA, India, Brazil and China actually put their signature to this so-called “Copenhagen Accord”. True enough, it fell far short of the expectations of many, but was welcomed by others as a step in the right direction. Rather strangely, the major complains came mainly from such countries as the Darfur-notorious and piracy-plagued Somalia and Robert Mugabe-run Zimbabwe. EU member states, including Malta, that had gone to Copenhagen with very high hopes and well thought out, concrete proposals, admitted that the results of the conference though positive in themselves, fell far short of their expectations.

An EU summit of ministers of the environment and heads of state or government had been held in preparation for the Copenhagen meeting of world leaders. During this EU summit, the last presided over by Sweden, it was decided that EU member states would offer poor, developing countries 2.4 billion euro to help them cope with their environmental problems. The EU member states themselves would set the example by cutting harmful emissions by 25 per cent.

Drama or deal!

High drama was not missing from the conference. There were protests by activists, including hot-heads who with inverted logic hard to understand claimed that disrupting the congress with riotous behaviour was the best way to bring it to a successful conclusion! Unfortunately, the world is not free from factious fanatics who think they have a human or even divine right to smash windows and burn cars with the excuse that they want to further a good cause.

Some of the banners displayed by protesters did however carry sensible messages. For instance, one poster proclaimed, “Keep the islands on the map!” It is islands like the Maltese archipelago that have most to lose if climate warming goes unchecked: The seas would rise and literally drown many islands!

The renowned French literary critic, Etienne Souriau claimed that drama begins with conflict when the protagonist, whom he calls ‘Lion’, sets out to achieve his goal but is impeded by ‘Mars’ his opponent and rival who is seeking the same objective. Perhaps bearing this in mind, some of the media stressed disagreement more than agreement, drama rather than deal!

Some media, for instance, played up the resignation of the conference chairmanship by the Danish Minister of the environment, Connie Hedegaard. She herself claimed it was only a foreseen logical procedural matter in order to allow the Danish Prime Minister to take over the chairmanship of the proceedings when it was the turn of Heads of Government or State to make their interventions. It must be admitted that it would have indeed seemed rather odd for a mere minister to be in the chair when world leaders were taking the floor!

Valiant Valletta

On Thursday 17 December 2009, Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who was present with many other heads of government, delivered his speech. He proudly recalled that it was his country Malta that first brought up the topic of climate change in the United Nations 21 years ago!

Recalling this fact was not only very encouraging for us Maltese. But it spurred us on to pledge that we too wanted to play our part in saving our planet from destruction caused by unchecked global warming. In fact, valiant Valletta, like wonderful Copenhagen sought to take bold steps to apply new procedures to produce clean, alternative energy that does not pollute the environment.

In his speech at Copenhagen, the Maltese Prime Minister, said inter alia:

“Colleagues, our mandate for achieving a comprehensive, effective and fair climate change regime has never been stronger. In 1988 Malta launched an initiative for a United Nations Resolution on the ‘Conservation of Climate as part of the Common Heritage of Mankind’. Malta is proud that despite its size and limitations, this initiative resulted in the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Malta has adopted a ‘National Strategy for Policy and Abatement Measures Relating to the Reduction of Green Gases’ containing mitigation measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and including the implementation of renewable energy sources, electricity efficiency and conservation. Over the past years Malta has started exploring economically viable options to maximise its use of renewable energy sources. Malta therefore recognises the need to provide the least developed countries, in particular vulnerable African countries, with adequate and effective capacity building and financing.”

At the same time of the Christmas season, ‘Valiant Valletta’ celebrated the festive inauguration in a fairy-tale atmosphere of its radically restored St George’s Square, in which literally, ‘ground was broken’. Original ancient structures were adapted to latest new techniques to provide water for the fountains and the electric lighting installed in the square facing the presidential palace built by the Knights of St John for their Grand Masters. The Magisterial Palace, together with St John’s ‘Conventual Church’ were to be the crowning glories in artistic achievement of the city founded by the Grand Master called by the historian Bosio,Giovanni di Valetta of whom it was said in a Latin adage, ‘plus quam valor valet Valette’ – Valette is worth more than valour itself.

Now, Valletta-born Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is determined to restore to Valletta all the dignity it deserves! To help him do so, he engaged the services of the world-renowned architect, Renzo Piano.

The plans for the entrance, parliament and theatre in Valletta drawn up by the world-renowned architect include innovative strategies to win energy literally by breaking ground. The latest, innovative techniques will be applied to win the energy needed to provide air conditioning in the new parliament building and the reactivated old Royal Opera House.

Three Presidents at one

At the very beginning of this year, 2010, the Lisbon Treaty came into force. This means that the EU now has a President of the European Council. The Belgian Herman Van Rompuy was elected to this very important and prestigious post.

On assuming the rotating presidency of the European Union, the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Zapatero convened a meeting in Madrid with the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy and the European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso. In the freezing weather of an ultra-white Christmas season, that was a nightmare rather than a dream, ‘Global Warming’ was to be a main topic.

President Herman Van Rompuy stressed that the launch of the Spanish Presidency on 8 January 2010 marked “the beginning of a very close cooperation between José Luis Zapatero, as Head of the Government responsible for the work of the Council, José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission” and himself. In fact, as the press conference proceeded, it became very evident that the three presidents were entirely at one when it came to the objectives of the EU for the coming months!

Concerning climate change, “The EU must continue to be a driving force in the field. There has been a lot of criticism of the outcome of Copenhagen. But let us be clear without the EU, the outcome in Copenhagen would have been much less. We as EU would have liked to go further. But there are enough elements to build on and to achieve for the good of our climate and our future.”

President Herman Van Rompuy commented that this was a very complicated process. The EU was doing much in terms of the commitments for emission reductions and in terms of the financial assistance it was prepared to bring to others, both in the short and long term.

In conclusion, President Herman Van Rompuy said, “It is time to recall that globalisation may give rights to all global actors, but also responsibilities. Within a few weeks, we will know the quantitative goals of the various actors in terms of CO² reductions. We will then know the distance between pledges made in Copenhagen and what is still needed to reach the objective of limiting the rise in temperature to a maximum of 2ºC. Everyone will have to face up to their responsibilities.”

We sincerely hope that the optimistic predictions of the three presidents of the EU will be fulfilled and crowned with success!

Dr Francis Cachia is a retired ambassador for Malta.


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