Faced with the latest, drastic predictions of the effects of climate change, European countries have agreed to a fresh cut in CO2 emissions of one-fifth and to press for a global reduction of 30 per cent.
Environment ministers yesterday dismissed calls to water down EU objectives and approved a binding set of new targets to be fulfilled by 2020, covering the period after the expiry of the Kyoto protocol in 2012. Cuts of 20 per cent on 1990 levels will be implemented unilaterally by the EU but that figure will rise to 30 per cent if it can be agreed internationally.
Although Poland and Hungary had voiced concerns ahead of yesterday’s gathering, neither country stood in the way of a deal. However the detail remains to be worked out and European countries will now negotiate a “burden sharing” regime. This will allow the less developed eastern European nations to catch up economically while their wealthier counterparts compensate by cutting emissions more than the average figure.
The accord was hailed as “an historic decision,” by Sigmar Gabriel, Environment Minister of Germany which holds the EU presidency. He said targets could be differentiated depending “on the economic situation in the country”.
Germany could, he said, attain a 40 per cent cut in CO2 to help bring average reductions down.
In a key concession, some of the EU’s newer members can use different starting points for their calculations. That would permit them to take advantage of the drop in CO2 arising from the disappearance of heavy industry following the collapse of Communism.
Poland, which is allowed to calculate from 1988, says that between then and 2004 emissions dropped by 31.6 per cent, making the new, post-2012 targets easily attainable.
Slovenia will be allowed to use 1986 as a base date while Hungary can calculate emissions from a baseline date of 1985-87.
The overall package agreed yesterday will have to be approved by European heads of government at a summit next month.
Environmental groups gave the deal a mixed reaction, welcoming the fact that targets will be binding but calling on EU countries to implement the 30 per cent reduction irrespective of what other nations around the world agree.
Mahi Sideridou of Greenpeace said: “We happily welcome the 30 per cent emission cut proposed for the EU and for developed countries for 2020. Ministers have listened to the science and made a leap forward in addressing the climate crisis. But to then suggest a meagre 20 per cent unilateral EU emissions cut, while admitting this is inadequate and that a 30 per cent cut will be necessary, is a bizarre discrepancy.”
David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, said: “The unilateral commitment to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 – the first of its kind – shows we’re willing to take concrete action on an issue that citizens care about.
“Action in the EU alone is not enough. Our commitment to a 30 per cent cut in emissions as part of a global agreement strengthens the EU’s ability to lead the debate at the G8 and UN climate change talks and to secure an ambitious outcome.”