EU climate deal seen as ' a breakthrough'

Posted: 22 March 2007

Despite some criticism that the European Union has not gone far enough in its undertaking earlier this month to tackle climate change, there has been considerable praise for the agreement to cut EU emissions by 20 per cent from its 1990 levels by 2020. The UK has already proposed a draft law which would commit it to reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent by 2050 (see below).

The long-term deal on energy policy sets binding targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, developing renewable energy sources, promoting energy efficiency and using biofuels. It also lays down a challenge to the US and other major industrialised nations to follow suit.

The key points, as summarised by the New Scientist are:

  • At least 20 per cent of energy used in the EU will come from renewable sources by 2020

  • At least 10 per cent of the fuels used in transport will be biofuels by 2020

  • EU emissions will be reduced to 20 per cen below 1990 levels by 2020.

European leaders also agreed to increase the emissions cap to 30 per cent, if nations including the US, Russia, China and India follow suit. This is in accordance with the energy strategy proposed by the European Council's environment council in February.

Ambitious package

The agreement will be used to formulate legally binding legislation, which will need further approval by member states. It will also form the basis of the EU's position in international talks to find a successor to the United Nations' Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012.

German chancellor Angela Merkel called the agreement "a breakthrough as regards the environment and climate change policy of the EU".And European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said it is "the most ambitious package ever agreed by any commission or any group of countries on energy security and climate protection".

Environmentalists want the EU to go further in its efforts to fight climate change, while European business is concerned that it may lose out to foreign rivals who do not have to comply with emissions caps. But there is praise for the agreement.

European business is already concerned that it will foot the bill by losing competitiveness to foreign rivals who do not have to comply with emissions caps. Environmentalists would generally have liked the EU to have gone further.

Bold vision

However, there is also considerable praise from unexpected quarters for the EU agreement.

According to Renewable Energy Magazine "It remains almost incredible that European leaders agreed, on 9 March, to adopt a target for 20 per cent of the EU's primary energy supply to come from renewable sources by 2020.Though the process involved cajoling and compromise, the outcome shows a bold vision that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago...

"... the new target truly does represent a great opportunity for renewables to step up and deliver. Yes, it comes as a top-down decision - and people nearer the 'shop floor' inevitably question the feasibility and practicalities of those - but while the 27 Member States negotiate their own specific targets, and how they plan to implement them, there's an opportunity for many doors to be nudged open for groups and businesses, regional or otherwise, to come forward with solutions to allow renewable technologies their very best shot at this tremendous goal.

"Poll after poll reveals popular support for measures to mitigate climate change, and for renewables in particular. That, combined with bold political moves, must mean promising times ahead, even if the way is not yet clear."

Laws needed

WWF also reacted postively: "The commitment by European leaders to scale up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 per cent by 2020 sets the right path to control climate change at the global level", it says.

It warned, however, "that the EU needs to put in place laws and measures so that the goal does not become hot air."

"It is clear that the targets will only be achieved with solid laws, measures and incentives," said Stephan Singer, Head of European Climate and Energy Unit at WWF. "The targets must be translated into a shift of investments towards green technologies, rather than to nuclear power stations."

Editor's notes::

Note 1.The British Government unveiled its draft climate change bill on March 13. Under the proposed legislation the UK will have to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent by 2050, with an interim target of at least 26 per cent by 2020. Failure could land the government in court.

Friends of the Earth which has led the campaign for a new climate change law welcomed the move. Its director, Tony Juniper, said: "We are delighted that the Government has recognised the need for a new law to tackle climate change. The UK will be the first country in the world to introduce a legal framework for reducing carbon emissions. But the draft Bill must be strengthened if the UK is to set a global example. It must include bigger cuts in carbon dioxide emissions and make all future governments accountable for their role in delivering these cuts. That's why The Big Ask, Friends of the Earth's climate campaign, is calling for strong legislation which will commit government to cutting the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of three per cent every year."

Note 2. According to a detailed study of the EU climate recommendations by the consulting firm McKinsey, the cost of implementing them will be over a trillion dollars (or £742bn.)over the next 14 years - or around 60-80 billion euros a year.

The recommendatons, it said, were both technically and financially feasible - but would require immense political effort.