Tug of war begins over EU climate change plans

March 5th, 2008 - 10:31 am ICT by admin  

By Ben Nimmo
Brussels, March 5 (DPA) With the ink barely dry on the European Commission’s plans for fighting climate change, the European Union’s member states have already begun a tug of war to pull the legal proposals in their favour. “It’s most important that the national targets…take into account solidarity and (economic) convergence,” said Arturas Paulauskas, environment minister for Lithuania, one of the EU’s newest and least developed members.

The EU’s climate change plans “are not the place to deal with cohesion and solidarity - that is what cohesion funds and the (EU) budget are for,” retorted Hilary Benn, environment minister of Britain - one of the EU’s richest and most developed economies.

A year ago, EU heads of government agreed that the bloc should cut its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2 - the gas most associated with global warming) to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

On Jan 23 the commission - the bloc’s executive - proposed laws detailing how this should be done. Monday’s meeting was the first time member states had turned to the issue, and they lost no time in pushing for changes that would benefit their own economies.

One key complaint dealt with the way the commission calculated the individual CO2 reduction targets, which it set for each member.

While the EU’s overall target for emissions is calculated as a reduction below 1990 levels, the commission told each country to reduce its emissions to a target based on emissions recorded in 2005.

Commission experts say that this was because 2005 was the first year in which accurate emissions figures became available.

But a number of former-communist states whose heavy industry collapsed after the fall of the USSR insist that their targets be based on 1990 levels.

Since the industrial collapse led to a massive fall in their CO2 emissions, any such change would make it much easier for them to hit the target. Romania, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Bulgaria all call for a target based on 1990 emissions.

But Spain, whose 2005 emissions were far higher than in 1990, and which would therefore have to work much harder if its proposed cuts were based on 1990, insists that 2005 be the reference year.

A second row is shaping over the proposal to make heavy industries - especially energy generators - bid for CO2 emission permits at auctions. The commission proposes that in the long run, all heavy industries should have to buy permits.

But countries which are home to heavy industries oppose the move, saying that it would damage their competitiveness. Germany, Spain, Lithuania and Slovakia have all sounded alarms over the issue.

And Poland, the Czech Republic and Estonia - all reliant on highly-polluting coal or even more polluting oil shale for their electricity generation - go a step further, insisting that electricity generators, too, be allowed free permits.

“If we have to buy 100 percent of allowances from 2013, it would cost 5 billion euros ($7.6 billion) per year and the price of energy would rise by 50 to 70 percent,” Maciej Nowicki, Poland’s Environment Minister, said.

Above all, it is the commission’s attempt to make member states fulfil their targets by improving their performance at home, which has run into a storm.

Current climate legislation allows EU members broad latitude to claim credit at home for paying for emissions-reduction projects in other countries. A wide range of member states say that the new proposals do not allow them to do that enough.

Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg, and Spain - all rich states with high targets from the commission - want to be allowed to get more credit for paying for third-country reductions, while poorer states such as Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia and Bulgaria want more “flexibility” in the way rich states are allowed to help them.

Monday’s meeting was only the first skirmish in the tug-of-war. EU heads of government are set to discuss the proposals March 13, and even the most optimistic commentators say that no final decision on the laws is likely until October.

And with the EU’s member states already flexing their own muscles and looking for allies, the commission’s climate-change proposals look set for a long, tense struggle before they come into law.

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