European Commission opens the Coffin of Global Warming

Financial Times

The European Commission reopened an acrimonious argument on climate change policy on Wednesday, with the presentation of adiscussion document on toughening its targets on greenhouse gas emissions.

Some member states, including the UK, are calling for the European Union to cut its emissions by 30 per cent compared with 1990 levels by 2020, a substantial strengthening of the 20 per cent already pledged.

But nations such as Poland and Italy are adamant that the higher level of cuts represents too heavy a burden on their industries.

In the document, the Commission noted that the effects of the recession, which pushed down emissions across the bloc, had made it much easier and cheaper to cut emissions.

The cost of meeting the 20 per cent target has dropped from €70bn to €48bn per year since 2008, according to the report. Moving to a 30 per cent target would cost an extra €33bn per year by 2020.

Weighed against this would also be benefits, such as lower health costs from air pollution.

Some member states say moving to 30 per cent would stimulate the growth of low-carbon technologies, and would make it easier for Europe to meet the 2050 target of cutting emissions by 80 per cent.

Chris Huhne, the UK’s secretary of state for energy and climate change, said: “Global climate change is the biggest challenge the world faces and securing an ambitious deal is a priority for this government. That’s why we will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership by supporting an increase in the EU emissions reduction target to 30 per cent by 2020.”

But the last time the possibility of 30 per cent cuts was discussed, there was such opposition to it that a compromise was established of cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 but offering to move to higher cuts if other nations also agreed to substantial reductions. This was intended to encourage other countries to up their offers of taking action on greenhouse gases.

That did not happen at the Copenhagen climate summit last December, when the Commission was forced to admit that no other country was calling on the EU to move to the higher target. Critics of the higher target say agreeing unilaterally to the increase in cuts only leaves Europe without leverage in the international negotiations.

Wednesday’s announcement was timed to come just before the restart on May 31 of the stalled United Nations talks on a new treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol.

However, the document does not represent a firm plan by the Commission to push for member states to adopt the 30 per cent target. Instead, it has been carefully positioned as a way of providing information on the costs and benefits of toughening the target.

Connie Hedegaard, commissioner for climate change, is well aware that any proposal to increase the target will face vocal opposition from some member states, and from many sections of business.