Priorities for “Green Diplomacy” in Foreign Affairs Council

15. 03. 2024
AUTHOR: Linda Kalcher

On 18 March 2024, the Foreign Affairs Council will adopt conclusions on "Green Diplomacy". This is a unique opportunity to look forward and develop a diplomatic vision for the upcoming two climate summits, known as the "Road to Belém through Baku" as COP29 will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November 2024 and COP30 in Belém, Brazil, in November 2025.

  1. Why do the next two UN climate summits matter?

It has been three months since the UAE consensus was adopted at the 28th United Nations (UN) Climate Summit (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. COP28 saw the first formal "Global Stocktake" under the Paris Agreement, a process assessing if countries are collectively on track to limit global warming to well below 2ºC, or even 1.5ºC.

It concluded with a stark warning that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced collectively by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 (compared to 2019) in order to limit global warming to 1.5ºC. To achieve this, new national climate pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), with 2035 targets need to be submitted to the UN between November 2024 and February 2025.

This is considered a make-or-break moment for aligning global emissions with net-zero by 2050 and ensuring a climate-safe scenario is within reach.

Many scientists warn that the 1.5ºC threshold is being passed more frequently. COP30 in 2025 is therefore critical to ensure the viability of the Paris Agreement and its goals, a linchpin of multilateral cooperation in times of geopolitical turmoil.

The upcoming months are key for advancing on financial reforms in the run-up to COP29 where a New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG) on climate finance will be adopted as successor to the USD $100 billion goal. Financial support is essential to enable a range of developing countries to set even more ambitious climate targets and accelerate a just energy transition.

  1. How can we advance the global energy transition?

Hailed as a major diplomatic success at COP28, all countries recognised the need to transition away from fossil fuels, the largest contributor to climate change. Thanks to the efforts of the European Union (EU) and its allies in developing countries, all countries acknowledged that action has to happen in "this critical decade" and committed to both a global tripling of renewable energy and a doubling of energy efficiency by 2030.

It is vital that clear fossil fuel phase-out trajectories, as well as concrete numbers on how much coal, oil and gas will be reduced by 2035, are included in all NDCs. The same can apply to the trajectories to increase renewable energy deployment as well as energy efficiency improvements. This will allow not only for an aggregate view of how much fossil fuel demand is expected to decline by 2035, but also show national investment needs for a just and equitable energy transition.

The EU has made an initial step by stating that its fossil fuel demand will reduce by 80% by 2040 in a net 90% emission reduction scenario. The EU can incorporate its fossil fuel, renewable energy and energy efficiency trajectories into its own 2035 NDC and work closely with other countries to ensure this is considered best practice for all NDCs. At the Foreign Affairs Council, ministers can agree that this will be a diplomatic priority for the EU.

  1. How can the EU contribute to the successes?

The EU, as a significant global player, wields considerable influence in shaping the discourse and actions on climate change. The March Foreign Affairs Council serves as a platform where governments converge to align their strategies and articulate collective goals.

A series of Group of 20 (G20) countries have initiated their domestic process on the 2035 NDCs, including the United States, China and Brazil. Submitting NDCs early and well ahead of COP30 is a no-regret action to be able to quantify the emissions gap to 1.5°C.

A concerted diplomatic outreach by "Team Europe" is an effective way to align on both the timing and quality of NDCs with key partners. Ministers can set out clearly that the EU will support and prioritise:

  • Accelerating global energy transition: Countries can strengthen energy security and make energy more affordable if they decarbonise their energy sector. This involves ramping up investments in renewable energy sources while phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels domestically. By providing details on energy transition pathways and need for financial support, NDCs can turn into investment plans.
  • Scaling up climate finance for developing countries: The EU can work with its allies to mobilise resources to support adaptation and mitigation efforts in regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. By providing adequate financial assistance through public and private finance, the international community can help developing countries transition to low-carbon, climate-resilient economies.
  • Promoting a Just Transition and social equity: The transition can only be successful if it is inclusive and equitable, particularly for workers and communities dependent on fossil fuel industries. By prioritising the benefits for local communities and all groups of society, governments can mitigate the negative impacts of climate policies and build broad-based support for decarbonisation.

Last but not least, it is time for the EU to walk the talk after championing the 1.5ºC goal and a fossil fuel phase-out in Dubai. The EU can show credible leadership by setting out a detailed sectoral pathway for its own emission reductions by 2035 and 2040. It can create a coalition of countries – starting with the Group of Seven (G7) – that is ready to submit their 2035 in line with the UN deadline between November 2024 and February 2025.

The European Council in June 2024 provides an excellent opportunity to adopt the 2040 target as it also sets the priorities for the next five years through the "Strategic Agenda". An adoption in June will allow the European Commission and Environment Council to set out clear pathways for fossil fuel phase-down, renewable energy and energy efficiency towards 2035, all to be included in the EU’s NDC.