The EU is without any doubt one of the biggest losers of the Copenhagen debacle. Not only did its future climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard make a pretty bad impression leading the debates but in the geopolitical Earthquake of shifting global power relations the EU was dramatically absent. Apparently it was not even invited around the table when the final Accord was being discussed between Obama, Wen, Zuma, Lula and Singh.
So how should the EU redefine its climate-energy policy after Copenhagen?
I think it should first of all stop bragging about its so-called climate/energy leadership. It has been a leader more on rhetoric than on real action, even if some of its actions and instruments might have been well-meant. But a genuine European long-term low-resources strategy towards a resilient and sustainable society is still a long way off and the recent EU-2020 document of the commission (the post-Lisbon strategy) is again heavier on hollow phrases than on practical workable solutions. This is, of course, not only the Commission’s fault. The EU-27 are so divided in their understanding of the need and urgency for a green economy that it will always be hard to find a common strategy. But until it is able to redefine its own political project, its influence will keep on waning. This means it should not focus on rhetorical climate and energy targets à la 20-20-20 (or have a big debate now whether it should move to 30%) but it should start to take thought and vision leadership and help its member states to redesign their economic policies from short-term GDP-growth obsessions to a “new prosperity”-based on a “people and planet first” paradigm.
The EU institutions should become the think-tank and avant-garde for Thomas Friedman’s “Earth race”. It should focus on all the amazing pockets of sustainability (in terms of business and governance practices and ideas) which exist within its borders and take real leadership in this quest for new prosperity in an age of declining natural resources.
That said, it will have to resist the recommendations from some “old-economy“ business circles to downgrade its green policies. Now more than ever, it is time to take real leadership, whatever the climate and EU sceptics will say.