When ministers from all over the world meet in Copenhagen in December, they will all be united in a wish to fulfil the ambitions set out two years earlier in Bali. But agreeing on the need for a successor to the Kyoto regime is one thing, finalising a comprehensive framework for action on climate change is quite another.

The need for sweeping action is indisputable, for the science is very clear; we need to curb emissions now, and each year of delay will mean yet more radical action later on. And delay may even push us beyond a critical tipping point.

The problems of climate change are also becoming clear. They range from water scarcities to conflicts over natural resources and rising sea levels that threaten some countries in Africa and southern parts of Asia. Heavy storms, floods and droughts have affected Europe too.

With international scientists becoming increasingly pessimistic about the impact of climate change, their recommendations for new measures are multiplying. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that our CO2 emissions must peak within the next decade or so and then reduce, and that we must attain a 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050 if the most severe consequences of climate change are to be contained. These are tough targets that will require fundamental changes in energy supply systems, transport and most other aspects of everyday life. The bottom line is that we will have to speed up the transformation of our economies to a low-carbon future, and now is the time to change gear.

There is very little time left for preparing a new global agreement, even if in Bali in late 2007 192 countries agreed to this tight schedule. But we also know that tackling climate change will be made no easier by being postponed, and that on the contrary the longer we procrastinate, the more drastic will be the measures required. The economic cost of inaction is far greater than the price of taking action now, several international studies have documented.

The task of uniting the European Union’s 27 member states to take concerted action to combat climate change is also demanding a great effort. The road to Copenhagen is bumpy, the curves treacherous and unpredictable. The financial crisis has taken many Europeans by surprise, and now constitutes a fresh obstacle to idealistic international cooperation. In times like these, politicians feel the need to show that they’re giving top priority to their citizens’ economic security, so the daily debate echoes with such key words as employment, housing, food and energy prices and financial stimulus packages. The answer is not giving up on climate change, but rather the opposite. Creating a green economy and developing the technological solutions of tomorrow will spur job creation and create new business opportunities.

“We need above all to send a clear message to the developing world on our commitment to help finance the post-2012 agreement”

Europe’s vulnerability to energy supplies from Russia and the Middle East may in some member states increase the feeling that they should rely to a greater extent on domestic energy sources, like coal and lignite. But these are outdated energy sources, and where a link is being sought between combating climate change and increasing energy security, it should be the development and use of renewable energies that they turn to, as well as to greater energy efficiency.

Today’s Europe of 27 means that the EU now consists of very different member states. We have to keep it very much in mind that at the time the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, the EU of 15 was unquestionably the motor driving the negotiating process. The situation now is completely different. And that means Europeans need to be more determined than ever that despite the financial and economic crisis, despite energy supply concerns and despite our different interests and circumstances, the EU will remain at the forefront in the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen. The EU has already done a great deal by setting extremely ambitious reduction targets, but with much still to be done, we need above all to send a clear message to the developing world on our commitment to help finance the post-2012 agreement.

Political leaders around the world have begun to emphasise that the solutions to the global financial crisis include renewable energy and energy saving. It is clearly important that President Obama is clear on that point and has made energy efficiency one of his priorities. Now, the new administration is moving quickly with legislation and economic incentives that underpin green jobs, clean technology and energy efficiency. A good example is the recent “Recovery and Reinvestment Act” that includes a solid allocation to green investments, and targets such as doubling renewables’ share of electricity production in three years.

As the financial crisis takes its toll, with banks crashing and businesses collapsing, it also demonstrates the need for long-term investment. Vestas, the Danish company that is world’s biggest manufacturer of wind turbines, was able to report continued growth in 2008 with an impressive increase in its total revenues. In the EU, national leaders have linked economic recovery with energy investment, including “green” investments. Seen from a Danish standpoint, this financial crisis could yet become a turning point that will see a much greater commitment to investing in energy efficiency.

“Without a strong player taking the lead, it will be impossible to place the many pieces in this puzzle, so the EU must once again play its part as the leading partner”

In those EU countries that still depend on high-emission fossil fuels, the revised emissions trading scheme in the EU will establish a cap for total emissions, and will enable their governments to generate funds by auctioning allowances for public investments in, say, renewable energy sources.

It was partly due to France’s very efficient EU Presidency in the latter half of 2008 that the member states reached agreement on a comprehensive “20-20-20” climate and energy package just before Christmas. By pledging themselves to a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, to reaching a 20% share of renewable energy and to increasing energy efficiency by 20% in 2020 was a compelling expression of EU leadership and an example to other countries worldwide.

The conclusions of the European Council in March of this year also sent a clear signal that the EU is committed to providing its fair share of the financial assistance to the mitigation and adaptation processes in developing countries.

This is an important statement. If we are going to engage the rest of the world in serious negotiations, much more tangible messages from the EU are needed. The European Council conclusions in March make it plain that the EU has yet to clarify its position on main approaches for financing, the specifics of our contributions and on the principles for burden-sharing among EU member states.

In other words, the months ahead will be a challenge for traditional cooperation and coordination efforts in the EU. Besides developing our own position on these difficult issues, the EU needs to improve its flexibility in the negotiating process. The EU needs to be able to manoeuvre more smoothly in the very complicated game of interests. In several cases where the EU has been taken by surprise by its negotiating partners our reaction time is too long – The EU must be able to react promptly and in a more concerted way.

Three important messages from the EU will be crucial to our ongoing negotiations with developing countries:

• Full acknowledgement of the Bali Action Plan’s call for “new and additional funding”
• Clear and strong support for structures that deal with the impact of climate change that mainly affect developing countries
• Acknowledgement of the need for a coherent financial architecture that builds on existing institutions as well as creating new mechanisms

As chair of the COP 15 Summit in Copenhagen, it will be Denmark’s task to gather all the pieces in the big jigsaw puzzle of global negotiations. Our role will be to listen, to learn, to mediate and to foresee where a final agreement can be made. We intend to be everybody’s COP president. But without a strong player taking the lead, it will be impossible to place the many pieces in this puzzle, so the EU must once again play its part as the leading partner. This time it will be a more demanding role than ever.