It might at first glance look like a good omen that the EU has shown up at the current United Nations climate change conference in Doha, Qatar, with its carbon emission reduction goals for 2020 already met.

Eight years ahead of time, Europe’s emissions are below its longstanding goal of a 20% reduction by 2020 compared to a 1990 baseline. In theory, Europe is a clean energy model for other countries striving to achieve the Kyoto-set targets and begin to reign in global warming.

In fact, Europe is so far ahead that it could easily set higher goals for itself and thus demand more from other industrially developed countries at the Doha talks, which last from November 26 to December 7. This is what many expected in light of several disturbing new reports that underscore the faster-than-expected rises in global temperatures – and the destruction this could havoc. There is widespread agreement that even strict adherence to the current reduction pledges may not have a significant impact on global temperatures.

But rather than shift into a higher gear, the Europeans, bruised and fatigued by the euro crisis, are in disarray on global warming, unlikely to play the key leadership role they did at the last round of talks in Durban in 2011.

Observers had hoped that the Europeans would raise their target, to 25% at least, if not 30%. (Germany, for example, has set higher targets for itself, aiming to slash a third of emissions by 2020.)

“It’s practically bizarre that the Europeans couldn’t agree to a more ambitious schedule since without even really trying they’ll reach 25% by 2020,” explains Lili Fuhr of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, a think tank with close ties to the country’s Green Party. Although the fiercest hold-out country was Poland, which fuels its factories and heats its homes above all with coal, neither could the Germany nor the UK government agree on a higher figure.

Moreover, the European Union is not bringing additional funding to the table, which in the past has enabled it to effectively leverage concessions from developing countries. This is what happened at the Durban talks in South Africa last year, leading to an alliance with developing countries that enabled the bloc to make a breakthrough few expected.

The EU points out that it is currently the world’s largest donor of official development assistance and of climate finance to developing countries. The EU claims that, unlike other developed countries, it is on track to deliver the full $9.4 billion in ‘fast start’ climate finance it has pledged for the period 2010-2012.

But critics say the EU hasn’t stepped up to help developing nations fight climate change nearly as much as it claims. The EU, the US, Canada and Australia agreed at the 2009 Copenhagen talks to make a down payment of $30 billion by the end of 2012 on the $100 billion that they pledged to raise by 2020. Independent reports by Oxfam and the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, show only $23.6 billion, or 78%, has been committed and much of that is not “new and additional” to existing aid, as was agreed.

According to the Oxfam report, only 43% has been allocated as grants: “Most of it was in loans that developing countries have to repay at varying levels of interest. In addition only 21% of funds have been earmarked to support adaptation programs to help communities protect themselves from the effects of climate change.”

The Funding Gap Extends

Moreover, the Green Climate Fund that was scheduled to go into effect in 2013 is empty, and there is no hope now of this changing by January 1. Thus the question in Doha is how to bridge this financing gap until resources are found for the green fund.

Moreover, the main purpose of the Doha talks are to chart a path for the global effort to slow climate change once the Kyoto agreement formally expires in 2015. Yet the Europeans – who account for only 11% of global emissions — are virtually alone among the industrial heavy hitters in favor of extending the Kyoto protocol and a new binding target for the future. At Doha, the EU, Australia, Norway, Switzerland and several other nations are expected to back an extension. But the US, Japan, and Canada, as well as China, India, and Brazil, say they will not be on board.

The EU has countered that if other big-time emitters aren’t joining, it will not go it alone. The ball is thus in Washington’s court, a chance for President Obama to make a mark on US climate policy. Observers say that if the US sticks its neck out, China could well do the same – and then everything might suddenly look different.

Maybe, in a surprise turn of events like those in Durban, the EU will step up and make something happen at Doha. Europe’s citizens may have allowed the climate issue to slide down on their crowded list of crises, but they have not forgotten about it completely. A poll conducted by Eurobarometer shows that 89% of EU citizens see climate change as a serious problem, up from 64% in 2009. This message though seems not to have gotten through to the politicians.