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Follow Our Fellow: Jürgen’s Visit to the Claremont Colleges

December 15, 2017

On October 18-19, Jürgen did his first outreach tour as EU Fellow at CWES. He was invited by Scripps College in southern California to give a presentation on EU environmental and climate policy. Scripps is one of five undergraduate colleges which are located together with two graduate schools in Claremont, a city 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

In the evening before the presentation, Jürgen had dinner with college students and staff, which was a much appreciated opportunity for informal discussions about his work for the EU. The next day, Jürgen gave a lunch talk at the Oldenborg Center for Modern Languages and International Relations at Pomona College. The Center directs a number of curricular and other programs designed to promote the teaching and learning of foreign languages and international studies, and it hosts a language house and dining hall where Jürgen’s event was organized. About 50 students and faculty from the various Claremont Colleges attended the event.

Jürgen introduced himself by telling about his work at the European Commission, and explained its role and responsibilities as the executive branch of the European Union. In his job he meets many experts and policymakers from different European countries, including government officials, NGOs, and representatives from business and industry. An important part of his duties at the Commission is to explain technical and legal aspects of climate legislation to non-experts both inside and outside the European institutions.

He continued his talk by describing how the EU evolved from being an organization for economic cooperation to rebuild Western Europe after the second World War to a customs union and fully-fledged internal market, and then to an even closer economic-political union covering many important aspects of its citizens’ daily lives. Because of the EU’s established freedom of movement of goods, services, capital, and labor, common rules and regulations are needed in many areas.

Jürgen noted that the EU had expanded from 12 countries in 1994 to 25 in 2004, and then to the current 28 members. He highlighted the significant economic, geographical, and historic differences between the different countries that must be considered when agreeing on common laws and policies in the European Union.

He explained how environmental and climate policy had evolved in the EU since the 1980s and emphasized that both policy areas are driven by science, deal with transboundary and global problems, and have been developed in close interaction with international agreements. In the past decade, environmental and climate policy have been increasingly integrated with EU objectives and policies in other areas, such as agriculture and energy.

In the final part of his talk, Jürgen discussed the EU’s role in international climate negotiations and the Paris Agreement. Key EU principles for international cooperation are multilateralism, environmental integrity, and legally-binding agreements. The EU strongly supports the UN process and international cooperation to combat climate change. Although it has a significant part in historic global greenhouse gas emissions, the EU’s share has been declining both in absolute and relative terms in the past 20 years. Emissions from the USA and China, the world’s largest emitter, and also from emerging economies like India, Brazil, and Indonesia are now more significant. Therefore, the EU’s own efforts to curb emissions are not sufficient to limit global warming and global solutions are needed.

Jürgen also noted the EU’s strong commitment to help developing countries in coping with climate change. It is a major contributor of financial and other assistance to the most vulnerable countries under the UN Climate Convention.

There were many questions from the audience after the presentation, including on the EU’s emission trading system, its policies for renewable energy policies and interaction with international trade and, how the recent political changes in Europe with populist parties gaining ground in many countries might influence the support for climate action. On the last question, Jürgen noted that there was still strong public support for climate action across the EU, but international progress was important to maintain the support domestically.

Stay tuned to see what the new year has in store for Jürgen as he continues his outreach work!