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Analysis: EU climate efforts hit by crisis

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Stefan Nicola
Berlin (UPI) Oct 17, 2008
The financial crisis is derailing progress in Europe on climate protection.

EU leaders Wednesday and Thursday at a summit in Brussels agreed that climate change had to be tackled despite the additional burden brought on by the financial crisis. Yet they failed to overcome differences in opinion on how exactly the burden should be shared, and now they may not come up with a detailed plan by December on how to reach their ambitious climate-protection goals.

A growing number of countries, mainly Italy and states from Central Europe, have complained that the goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 is becoming too expensive.

"Our businesses are in absolutely no position at the moment to absorb the costs of the regulations that have been proposed," Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was quoted by The Times of London as saying.

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said his government wouldn't urge France to phase out nuclear energy and build windmills, "and nobody can tell us the equivalent."

Both leaders, in a move that sparked an angry outcry from environmental groups and the gatekeepers of EU protocol, even threatened to veto the whole climate-protection package.

Nine Central and Eastern European nations have joined forces to lobby Brussels to be relieved of more stringent reduction targets to ensure continuing economic growth.

If big economies such as Germany, France and Britain would not shoulder more of the burden, they implied, then the whole package might crumble, seriously undermining global efforts to curb climate change.

Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, called on the EU to quickly strike a deal on how to realize its targets, in order to be ready to enter global negotiations on climate protection that will be launched in December in Poland.

Such a deal would:

-- set targets for each country to help boost the share of renewable energy by 20 percent by 2020.

-- determine how the burden of carbon dioxide emission cuts would be shared.

-- set the standards for a 20-percent increase in energy efficiency.

-- and, finally, enforce the EU Emission Trading Scheme.

The scheme, which would create a bidding process for permits to emit carbon dioxide, has been criticized by some who argue the EU should tax dirty instead of "selling the right to pollute," as Berlusconi called it.

Even Germany is not entirely happy with the current layout of the ETS. Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to help the energy-intense German industry, which she has tried -- so far unsuccessfully -- to exempt from emissions trading.

With so much opposition, it's a race against time for the French EU presidency, under its ambitious leader, President Nicolas Sarkozy, who during the summit repeatedly reminded member states of their previous pledges.

The next presidency goes to the Czech Republic, one of the nations protesting that the current goals are too ambitious. Czech President Vaclav Klaus has raised eyebrows with statements that humans may not be responsible for climate change after all. Observers fear that the EU's ambitious targets will be scaled back once the Czech Republic takes over.

If the EU hammers out a deal before the end of the year, observers hope it can motivate the rest of the world to also raise its efforts and by the end of 2009, at a climate conference in Copenhagen, come up with a post-Kyoto Protocol.

"We have to find a solution" by December, said Merkel. "But that means really hard work for the presidency and the commission."

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EU fights to prevent climate change pact unravelling
Brussels (AFP) Oct 16, 2008
European Union leaders fought growing pressure Thursday to roll back their climate change plans, standing by their targets and timetable for the package as the financial crisis bites.

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