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European Union

EU Climate change plan on the ropes

Article published on the 2008-10-15 Latest update 2008-10-15 14:19 TU

Gordon Brown and José Manuel Barroso.(Photo: Reuters)

Gordon Brown and José Manuel Barroso.
(Photo: Reuters)

Faced with the growing costs of the international financial crisis, EU leaders are at loggerheads over what to do with the European emission reduction plan, which is to be discussed at the EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday.

Heading into the meeting, several EU members including Italy and the Czech Republic voiced serious doubts that they would be able to afford to fulfil their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 per cent by 2020.  

“The world has changed since the European Commission presented the climate change package in January, with the financial instability and the price rise of raw materials,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Monday.

“No-one in Italy is trying to stop the path towards reducing CO2 emissions but one can't ignore the costs. If you put the European measures in place it would cost 1.14 percent of GDP for Italy alone,” he argued. “For this reason we need to properly evaluate the impact on the real economy.”

The EU climate change plan, unanimously endorsed 18 months ago and announced with great fanfare, includes a commitment to bring renewable energy sources up to 20 percent of total electricity production.

"The targets have been agreed and we have presented them all over the world," said José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission chief. If the plan isn’t implemented, "there will be a real problem of credibility for Europe."

"Saving the planet is not an after-dinner drink, a digestif that you take or leave. Climate change does not disappear because of the financial crisis", he added.

France and Britain, however, remain positive, and are pushing for a deal.

“This is not the time to abandon a climate change agenda which is important for the future,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters in Brussels.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to have the details of the deal worked out before his country steps down from the rotating EU presidency at the end of the year.

"We must progress in a decisive manner towards the goal of adopting a climate-energy package before the end of the year, taking into account the current economic difficulties," he said in a letter to his fellow European leaders on Tuesday.

But a compromise might undermine the environmental plan.

Environment campaigner Pascal Husting believes that there is "a very high risk" that vested industrial interests may sabotage it but he calls on the EU leaders to resist the pressure.

"The message that the European leaders have to acknowledge is that the financial crisis brings back the state as a regulator into the game," he told RFI. "And now it’s up to the European heads of government to assume that role."

Pascal Husting, director of Greenpeace France

15/10/2008 by Tom Williams


The plan includes an emissions trading scheme which forces European industries to buy permits to pollute, encouraging them to save money by becoming cleaner. There is widespread concern that this will relocate businesses outside of the union, without making any difference to carbon dioxide emissions.

Poland, which uses coal-fired plants to produce 96 per cent of its electricity, wants its emissions limit raised.

Germany has lobbied to have certain energy-hungry industries such as steel, aluminium and cement production exempted from the carbon cap, arguing that they would move out of Europe to remain competitive.