Interview with Artur Runge-Metzger

By Zhang Bin
Published: 2010-12-03

On December 1st, the Economic Observer conducted an interview with Artur Runge-Metzger, Head of Unit Climate Strategy for the European Commission at the Cancun Climate Conference, about the progress of the conference and the general outlook of climate control policy.  

The original transcript of the interview was edited for clarity.


Economic Observer: We know that there are four to twelve important meetings this year. There were three in Germany, one in Tianjin, the goal of which is to let the talks go back to negotiations. Can you tell me some of the details of these meetings? Why aren't we seeing improvements? 

Runge-Metzger: I think there was an improvement this year, improvement in terms of debate and the style of the debate. You need to look at the texts and at where they were before the leaders arrived. There has been quite an improvement. Just over the last two weeks even, since we had the Pre-Cop meeting in Mexico City, there is a new text on the table that may have compromises for the Convention Track. I think it was a very good process; to our taste, it is always too slow. We always hope that things could be moved forward much quicker. But it is an international process, and it always goes slowly.

EO: In which meetings did we see an improvement? Which ones were most important?

Runge-Metzger: I don't think you can say that any of the meetings were more important than the others. The progress was incremental, from one meeting to the next. In the four weeks before Cancun, there were a lot of informal meetings between ministers. Hopefully they have helped unlock some of the more difficult issues.

EO: Can you tell me what efforts the EU has made to promote Climate Change negotiations?

Runge-Metzger: We finance a lot of the process. We provide money that allows people from developing countries to attend these meetings, and we did outreach, to speak to as many parties as possible over the past months. Commissioner Hildegarde undertook a very intensive travel program around the world in order to talk to many of the key players in the process.

EO: Can you comment on what the other major economies have done?

Runge-Metzger: I think after Copenhagen, there were a few months where there was relatively little activity. During the second half of this year, there were the official meetings you mentioned and many informal meetings. I think the Mexican presidency has taken on a lot of the burden by organizing many thematically focused meetings in order to discuss individual points. That has really helped to build understanding and give a feeling that this is an inclusive process where all the parties have a say. I think there was a feeling in Copenhagen that some parties were excluded.

EO: What about the participation of US and China?

Runge-Metzger: I think both US and China have shown a great interest in the international negotiations. They have been active participants in all the meetings, making constructive proposals toward moving forward.  Both countries are serious and they want to see a result coming from Cancun.

EO: How are international affairs, for example the US national midterm elections, impacting the climate change negotiations?

Runge-Metzger: This is something we can speculate about. The situation for climate policy is not easy in the US, but I do not think this will affect the negotiations. The Obama administration said very clearly that it will stick to the promises it made in Copenhagen, and that it takes the international climate change negotiations very seriously. What could happen is that some people who do not want to do something could start hiding behind the US, but luckily enough, I have not seen that yet in the negotiations.

EO: What other events will influence the talks?

Runge-Metzger: What is making the climate change negotiations difficult is the international economic and financial crisis. There is no doubt that many countries have had difficulties without public finances. Financing for the battle against climate change has become more difficult. In Europe we have not gone back on the promises we made last year in Copenhagen. We have lived up to them despite the fact that some of our governments are running really big deficits.

EO: It is very interesting that Japan's position has changed a lot. They now want a new global agreement. What is the reason behind the change?

Runge-Metzger: I wouldn't say that this is a big change. Last year, Japan did say that it wanted a new agreement. That is what Japan and Europe and many other countries were looking for in Copenhagen.

EO: But they said no to the Kyoto Protocol.

Runge-Metzger: No, they didn't say no to the Kyoto Protocol. They said no to the Second Commitment Period. I think they wanted to convey, in a new global agreement, participation from other parties. What is certainly true is that their language has sharpened.

EO: What is the European position on the Second Commitment Period?

Runge-Metzger: We are open to an extension into the Second Commitment Period. But this only makes sense for environment, and the fight against climate change, if we address some of the flaws in the Kyoto protocol. If you continue with the Kyoto Protocol as it stands, you undermine the fight against climate change. Therefore, we are seeking improvements to the Kyoto Protocol that will allow us to move into the Second Commitment Period. If you look at the Kyoto Protocol, it only covers 27-30% of emissions. It is not sufficient for fighting climate change. We need to cover the other 70% of the global emissions as well.

EO: Some people say the Kyoto Protocol will be dead.

Runge-Metzger: Negotiations are on the Kyoto Protocol are ongoing. But it is a stepwise action. To say that the KP is going to be dead, that is not in the cards

EO: Are they working on a new global agreement right now?

Runge-Metzger: This is linked to proposals that have been made by some of the small island states to work toward a new protocol and another convention. We are open to discussions. We have said that we support those countries and those efforts. There will be a discussion in Cancun about whether we move toward a new protocol and another convention.

EO: Do you think the new protocol will be a big problem for China?

Runge-Metzger:No, there are many G77 countries that support it. There have only been three voices of concern. One was Saudi Arabia, another was India, and China thought it was better to deal with this issue in informal conversations and there was no need to discuss it in Cancun in a detailed manner.

EO: Why have we seen less conflict between the US and China?

Runge-Metzger: There is a very simple explanation for this. Last year we did not have the Copenhagen Accord. In the agreement, a lot of the issues between the China and US were resolved. I think as long as both sides stick to it, you will not see a major standoff between the two countries. From there, there is a very good starting point from which work can be done on the monitoring reporting verification systems.

EO: Have there been big changes in the EU position?

Runge-Metzger: I don't think the EU has changed. Our ambition is still to have a comprehensive, legally binding agreement that pertains to everyone. The only thing that has changed is tactics. I think that Copenhagen has shown us that it is a complex issue, and it's not easy to come to that agreement very quickly. After Copenhagen, we thought it's probably better to apply a stepwise approach. Try to agree on a limited set of issues and deal with the others after Cancun. We think that Cancun can be a step to an international, legally binding framework.

EO: Do you think EU will make more last minute promises?

Runge-Metzger: I don't think there's a question of the level of ambition of the EU's commitment. But we don't think we will have this global agreement at Cancun. That is something that will be dealt with next year.

EO: Some people are saying that this meeting will move forward the attempt to promote new technology. But we have not seen this.

Runge-Metzger: I think this is unfair. There is some progress in the new text. There is an emphasis on technology. I have also seen a ten point proposal from India which is an interesting one. There are new ideas coming in. So I'm quite hopeful. In the coming days, more work is going to be done on this, but also on adaptation, capacity building, and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and in the end it will come to a very concrete package of action.

EO: What will the failure or success of Cancun mean? How will it impact the international community?

Runge-Metzger: That's an interesting question. I think with any international meetings, particularly those relating to climate change, one cannot rule out the possibility of failure. But failure would be quite detrimental to the UN process. People outside the UN negotiations, the wider population, they will think this process is useless and cannot deliver on one of the greatest problems of the century and one of the greatest threats to mankind. We will then have to look for other ways of taking international climate policy forward.

EO: People are saying that there will be a new pact similar to the "Denmark pact."

Runge-Metzger: There's a lot of speculation about this about when it’s coming. At the moment we are working on the text of the AWGs, there's a stocktaking planned for Saturday, and that is the time to decide whether the text has become mature. Either we will take it forward, or the president will take the pen into his own hands to look for compromises. You have to be prepared for any event. I wouldn't be surprised if someone were already drafting a compromise somewhere.


This interview was transcribed and edited by Ruoji Tang