Luxembourg (AFP) Oct 20, 2008
European Union environment ministers vowed Monday to respect the bloc's targets for fighting climate change even as nations sought protection for industries hit by the global financial crisis.
Italy, whose Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi threatened last week to veto the plans, led calls for significant changes to be made and demanded a review mechanism, saying it was not the only nation ready to take a stand.
"We can underline the strong willingness from the EU states to intensify their work to reach an accord" in December, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said after chairing environment talks in Luxembourg
"The financial crisis does not stop climate change," he said.
Borloo later told AFP that the talks had produced a "robust negotiating position for Poznan," in Poland, where world governments are to meet to discuss global warming in December.
Last year, the EU vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, in an effort to halt global warming. It also pledged to have renewable energies make up 20 percent of all energy sources.
In order to achieve these overall targets, heavy industry -- which produces 40 percent of the EU's greenhouse gases -- would have to cut its CO2 emissions by 21 percent from 2005 levels.
Other goals are fixed for transport, agriculture and other sectors.
But Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said: "The package as it stands right now is not suitable. It is untenable. Significant changes are needed."
"We are not the only ones to take this position," she said.
"We demand a review clause. We hope now that real negotiations will be opened. We've come with good intentions. We are going to ask for many modifications and we hope they will be taken into account," she said.
On Saturday, Italian news agency ANSA said Rome could approve the plan if it includes a clause allowing for its revision following a cost-efficiency report to be produced in 2009.
On Friday, the head of the UN climate change body warned that the EU would send a dangerous signal if it failed to meet the December deadline.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas also opposed any backsliding.
"The package demonstrates Europe's leadership in tackling climate change by setting an example," he said Monday. "The approval of the package will strengthen our hands during the international negotiations."
But Italy and Poland threatened at a summit last week to veto the project -- which was due to be sealed in December -- as the financial crisis bites and with relatively poor ex-communist countries dependent on coal for energy.
The three Baltic states, along with Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia also raised objections, while Germany is taking a tough stance in defence of its automobile industry, according to officials.
Poland vowed to use its veto to resist any attempt to railroad through the targets, which must be approved by the European Parliament.
In the end, Rome and Warsaw persuaded their EU partners to only adopt the package at the next EU summit in mid-December by a unanimous -- rather than majority -- vote; a clear threat to the bloc's ambitious plans.
Italy suspects the plan would cost its economy around 25 billion euros (33 billion dollars) each year, although the European Commission puts the figure at between nine and 12 billion euros.
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who triumphantly unveiled the targets last year when her country held the EU's rotating presidency, conceded last week that the bloc has "lots of work" ahead if it is to reach agreement.
"The financial crisis looks like an excuse to me," said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
"If we don't make it (to agreement by December), the international negotiations on climate change are going to be seriously compromised," he told reporters Monday.
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