Climate Change, Environment, Europe, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT: EU Stepping Back from Cleaning Up

David Cronin

BRUSSELS, Oct 6 2008 (IPS) - Most of the European Union’s promised cuts in greenhouse emissions could be undertaken outside the bloc under a proposal to be considered by law-makers this week.

Warning that climate change risks turning into a catastrophe for humanity, the EU’s presidents and prime ministers committed themselves last year to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other substances blamed for global warming by 20 percent below 1990 levels within the following 13 years.

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, argued at the time that Europe must transform itself into a low-carbon economy. But rather than requiring the reductions to be achieved within the EU, a more recent proposal would allow its member states to buy ‘external credits’ so that up to 80 percent of the cuts will be introduced through ‘clean development’ schemes in poorer countries.

This proposal is to come before the European Parliament’s environment committee Oct. 7. Green campaigners believe that if the committee accepts it and some other efforts to weaken a ‘climate and energy package’, the EU’s reputation as a self-proclaimed champion of the environment will be tarnished.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said that the vote will represent the biggest legislative effort to tackle climate change that the world has yet seen. It is vital, according to the organisation, that a bold package is approved so that the Union will be well-placed to demand that other major polluters take their responsibilities seriously during international climate change talks in Poznan, Poland, this December and in Copenhagen, Denmark, next year. The global discussions are designed to frame a successor to the Kyoto accord, which set reduction targets for the period lasting until 2012.

Delia Villagrasa, a WWF policy advisor, said that the EU should be focused on ensuring that the “vast majority” of its reductions occur within its own territory. “The EU will have to be a leader in the global negotiations if we want to have a global deal,” she said. “For the EU to be seen as weakening its climate package really undermines its credibility in international negotiations.”

Intense behind-the-scenes talks have been taking place among the Parliament’s environment and industry specialists over the past few weeks. Many from the assembly’s two largest groupings, the centre-right European People’s Party and the centre-left Socialists, have been urging that the measures agreed should not penalise European firms. The Parliament is under pressure to wrap up its deliberations on the climate package speedily. France, the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, is adamant that work on the dossier should be completed by the end of 2008.

Among the most contentious issues being addressed is what rules should apply to the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), which places an overall limit on the amount of carbon dioxide that companies may release, and then requires them to acquire permits for their emissions.

While green campaigners have insisted that such permits should be sold and that the proceeds used to fight poverty and protect the environment, some companies that consume vast amounts of energy have warned that they would be put at a competitive disadvantage unless they are given their allowances for free.

Makers of chemicals, metal, paper and cement have intimated that they will have to leave Europe for countries with lower environmental standards if the ETS proves too expensive for them. But a new study by the research body Climate Strategies indicates that the risks of relocation are exaggerated, stating that steel companies are unlikely to ‘pack up and leave’ an area in which they have large capital investments and that factors other than environmental laws are more likely to determine where a firm operates.

Karim Harris from the organisation Climate Action Network Europe said that some industrial lobbyists have resorted to “scaremongering”.

“If you look at the reasons why different manufacturers have left Europe in the past, it has not been because of environmental measures,” she said. “It has usually to do with cheaper labour.”

But Robert Jeekel from Eurometaux, which represents makers of aluminium and other metals, described the scaremongering allegation as “ridiculous”.

He predicted that increased costs for industry would prompt aluminium firms to relocate to China, which is expanding its use of coal, one of the most ecologically destructive sources of energy. The net effect would be one of “lose-lose” both for European industry and for the environment, he added.

Meanwhile, France has put forward a new proposal to delay the implementation of new rules on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from cars.

Whereas the average car in the Union now emits 158 grams of CO2 per kilometre, the European Commission has advocated that this should be reduced to 130g/km by 2015. After fierce lobbying from firms that produce heavy vehicles, France has recommended in the past week that the target should be suspended until 2015 in order to give the industry greater time to prepare itself.

Greenpeace reacted angrily to the French plan. “French President (Nicolas) Sarkozy cannot ignore the continuous rise in transport emissions if he wants to help Europe reach its climate targets,” said the group’s transport specialist Franziska Achterberg. “This deal would be bad news for European consumers and the environment.”

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

sql for beginners pdf