EU blowing hot and cold on climate change
Christian Spillmann believes the EU has ruined its ambition to lead the world at upcoming international climate talks.
Battered by the economic headwinds and unable to hammer out a plan to fight global warming, Europe has ruined its ambition to lead the world at upcoming international climate talks in Poznan, Poland.
The European Union has fixed an ambitious triple objective for itself to achieve by 2020, the so-called 20-20-20 goals; a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, bringing renewable energy use up to 20 percent of the total, and an overall cut of 20 percent in energy use.
So far so good, however while all 27 EU member states are happy to embrace the broad, overall goals, the devil is in the eco-detail, with countries keen to protect their own industries.
The economic crisis has done nothing to ease the path towards agreement.
The package narrowly avoided disaster at an EU summit in October where Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi threatened to use their vetoes.
They came on board only when some key decisions were put off to the next European summit on December 11-12.
That means that there will be no world-leading unified European package to present at the UN climate change talks in Poznan which will run from Dec 1-12.
"It is an extremely difficult task... the temptation is strong not to jump the hurdles," which prevent a detailed European agreement, admitted French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.
The difficulties involved were amply illustrated on Monday when the member states failed to agree on one detail of one section of the overall package; the penalties that automakers should pay if they breach the targets for car emissions.
Governments, industry, consumer groups, everyone has their contribution to make in attempts, not to scupper the environmental targets, but to make them less painful to themselves.
The polluter-pays principle is proving a tough pill to swallow, especially if the rest of the world is not being hit by the same restrictions.
Eyes are turning increasingly towards the US and emerging giants China and India to match the European objectives.
The European plan imposes a doubly whammy on its industry; to cut down on polluting emissions and to buy allowances for the CO2 they do produce.
"We'll have to show all our dexterity and ingenuity to find compromise solutions without jeopardising the plan's main planks," said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
The EU's biggest industrial power Germany, which is entering an election period, is the most difficult country to get on board, according to negotiators.
No deal will be possible unless Berlin. which originally launched the climate change/energy plan during its 2007 tenure of the EU presidency, is prepared to cede ground.
The current French EU presidency will also have to convince the Italians and the Poles.
Poland, along with several of the EU's newer eastern European member states, is much more coal-driven then its western European colleagues and feels the blanket CO2 targets don't take sufficient account of its starting point.
While Poland will host the United Nations' December 1-12 climate conference, its liberal government has threatened to torpedo the flagship EU climate deal should it overly burden its growing economy and consumers.
According to World Coal Institute figures for 2007, Poland - beside South Africa - is the most coal-dependent country in the world, producing 94 percent of its electricity from coal.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, seeking to tie up his country's EU presidency with a green bow before it ends on December 31, intends to travel to Poland on December 6 to appease Warsaw and its fellow eastern European member states.
"I hope he will bring us a present in the form of good proposals, proposals that will take into consideration our specific situation," said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, referring to the trip.
Italy's Berlusconi was also showing no signs of backing down in comments he made Sunday.
"With the economic crisis, it's the gesture of a Don Quixote to want to be the flag-bearer in the climate battle while there is no agreement from others like China or the United States."
BRUSSELS - 26 November 2008