(c) Dahrendorf Forum

European Climate Leadership in Question – Policies toward China and India

The European Union (EU) has long portrayed itself as an international leader on climate change. However, the reactions in other countries paint quite a different picture.

In a panel discussion on November 5th Dr Diarmuid Torney, Lecturer in International Relations at Dublin City University, presented his new book European Climate Leadership in Question at the Hertie School of Governance. With the help of case studies on India and China, he shows in his book why European leadership on climate change and best-practice approaches are constrained.

With regard to the upcoming climate negotiations in Paris this year, the panelists took a stand on this argument and discussed the issue from European, Chinese and Indian perspectives. The following interview outlines some of their key conclusions. It was recorded prior to the public debate.

What is the role of the European Union in international climate protection?

Diarmuid Torney: I would say it is a mixed picture. It is not a story of unqualified European success. But it is certainly not a story of unqualified failure either. Over time, the EU has become better at engaging and developing relations with other countries on climate change. In the EU-China case in particular, there have been interesting examples of cooperation: For instance, the Chinese government has been learning from the European experience of setting up an emissions trading scheme.

There are also significant cooperation projects between individual member states and China. Germany is particularly active in this area, both in the China and the India case. Moreover, the EU, since Copenhagen, has developed relationships with lots of other countries apart from these two. As the host of the United Nations climate change conference 2015 (COP21), France has mobilized significant diplomatic capacity. European policy makers have learned from the pre-Copenhagen experience and become smarter and better at international climate diplomacy.

What does it take to be a successful leader in global climate politics?

Martin Jännicke: There are many definitions of leadership, e.g. in a political, structural, intellectual, or entrepreneurial context. In his book, Diarmuid has a relational definition. I prefer the notion of leadership by example. This means best practice and lesson drawing from best practice. When you take this as a starting point, you’ll find more positive cases. For instance, in the last year, nearly 80 percent of the newly added capacity for power production in the EU was green electricity; and the share will be increased each year. The EU’s greenhouse gas emissions target is a reduction of 20 percent. Furthermore, the EU achieves a regulatory dominance. Everyone who wants to enter the European market has to adapt to European regulations. This is a very important mechanism for global learning and global diffusion. Therefore, I think, the EU is a leader in environmental politics.

How should more constructive cooperation with the emerging powers China and India look like?

Tao Wang: The EU has done a great job in setting up the “leadership by example”, by setting up highly ambitious emission reduction targets for itself and also by encouraging others to follow the road. It also demonstrates a large-scale dissemination of renewable energy such as wind and solar power. The European market plays a very big role for the growth of China’s solar and wind industries. All this has had a very positive impact. But with respect to its relations with developing countries, the EU thus far has not been that effective in engaging with China and India.

The diverging opinions between the EU and China in climate negotiations, to some extent, led to a closer relationship between China and the US. We have seen how the negotiation process was dominated by the US. After Copenhagen, the negotiation process gave way to a decentralized, bottom-up approach instead of a top-down international climate regime. The top-down approach that was advocated heavily by the EU, unfortunately, did not get a lot of support from China. I think this might be due to some of the failures of the EU in engaging with China in setting up reasonable schemes addressing climate change. Still, in China we see the EU as an important actor to cooperate with in tackling climate change.

Rajendra Jain: India has appreciated that in contrast to other regions, the European Union has sought to meaningfully reduce emissions. Even though there has not been very substantial cooperation between India and the EU in the field of climate change, there are numerous opportunities for cooperation both with the Union and individual Member States in view of India’s ambitious plans to generate 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 and strong emphasis on sustainable development as part of new initiatives like Smart Cities and Clean India.

What can we expect from the Climate Conference in Paris?

Rajendra Jain: It is difficult to predict what will be the final outcome of the COP 21 at Paris. The eventual outcome will include the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) which will be subject to periodic international review in accordance with agreed consensus on the pledge and review system. Key issues at the Paris conference will include the legal nature of the final outcome, the degree of emphasis on the principle of equity and common and differentiated responsibility, adequate focus on both adaptation and mitigation as well as access to adequate finance and technology.


Prof Rajendra Jain is the Director of the Europe Area Studies Program at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Prof Dr Martin Jänicke is the Founding Director of the Environmental Policy Research Center (FFU) at the Free University Berlin.

Dr Diarmuid Torney is Lecturer in International Relations at Dublin City University and a member of the Dahrendorf Working Groupe ‘Europe and China’

Dr Tao Wang is Resident Scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

The opinions expressed in this blog contribution are entirely those of the author and do not represent the positions of the Dahrendorf Forum or its hosts Hertie School and London School of Economics or its funder Stiftung Mercator.