Planetark.org, Jan. 11, 2007
BRUSSELS - The European Commission presented "the most ambitious policy ever" to fight climate change on Wednesday, challenging the world to follow Europe's lead in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The European Union's executive branch proposed the 27-nation bloc reduce emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, with the possibility of going to 30 percent if other developed countries join in.
The targets are part of new proposals for a broad EU energy policy that aims to boost production of renewable fuels, cut energy consumption, and reduce the dominance of big utility companies over EU gas and electricity markets.
With oil imports hit by the latest dispute involving Russia, the Commission's vision for an EU-wide energy policy also seeks to ease dependence on foreign suppliers and push the bloc to speak with one voice on the world stage.
But Brussels made fighting global warming the core of its strategy.
"If this was adopted it would be by far the most ambitious policy ever -- not only in Europe but the world -- against climate change," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference.
The plan needs to be approved by EU governments and the European Parliament.
The new goal goes beyond an existing target for an eight percent cut in emissions from 1990 levels in the 2008-2012 period adopted by the 15 members of the EU before its 2004 enlargement, which several countries are struggling to meet.
The EU renewed its calls on the United States -- the world's biggest polluter -- and other major economies to drop their opposition to binding targets for emissions cuts.
"We need the United States with us," said Barroso, who met US President George W. Bush this week. "I personally believe the United States will change and they will be much more ambitious in the future when it comes to climate change."
Germany, holder of the bloc's rotating presidency, said the policy showed the EU's leadership on climate change, but Britain reiterated its preference for an EU target of 30 percent.
"I think it is ambitious but realistic," said Claude Mandil, executive director of the International Energy Agency in Paris.
United Nations officials said the EU move may spur stalled international talks on fighting global warming.
Environmentalists said the plan fell short.
"Scientific findings show that it simply won't be enough for the EU to only reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020 if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change," said Jan Kowalzig, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
EU business lobby UNICE protested the target was too high and said European business would suffer if other countries around the world do not agree to cuts.
Energy has been at the heart of the EU since it was born as the European Coal and Steel Community half a century ago but policy remains largely in the hands of national governments.
This week's dispute between Russia and Belarus, which has hit oil exports to several EU nations, has highlighted the bloc's vulnerability to foreign producers of fuel.
The Commission's report said plans to shut reactors will make cutting emissions harder and it encouraged countries phasing out nuclear power, such as Germany, to replace it with non-polluting sources.
The Commission proposed that renewable energy sources, such as wind, make up 20 percent of the EU's energy mix by 2020, up from a non-binding goal of 12 percent by 2010, which the bloc is likely to miss.
The new plan also says biofuels should account for a minimum of 10 percent of fuel used by vehicles by 2020.
On one of the most politically sensitive items, Barroso said Brussels favoured splitting up the generation and distribution businesses of power companies to tackle what his regulators said were "serious competition problems" in the sector.
But Germany and France oppose that idea and the Commission offered a second option of utilities handing over management of grid businesses while retaining ownership. That option would mean more intrusive regulation, one EU official said.
French power giant EDF said full separation of generation and distribution was unnecessary. Germany's E.ON and RWE also rejected the proposals.
French Industry Minister Francois Loos, referring to the ownership proposals, said "there are subjects on which we will make ourselves heard by the Commission."
FACTBOX - Main Points of New EU Energy Strategy
BRUSSELS - The European Commission launched an overhaul of Europe's energy policy on Wednesday, ranging from plans to cut carbon emissions to recommendations for breaking up energy giants.
Following are some of the main points of the strategy proposal which must now be approved by European Union countries:
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
The Commission proposed a unilateral target of cutting EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels, rising to 30 percent if other developed nations join in under an international agreement.
That compares with an existing target for an 8 percent cut from 1990 levels in the 2008-2012 period which was adopted by the 15 members of the EU before its 2004 enlargement but which several countries are struggling to meet.
RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES
The plan puts forward a binding target of producing 20 percent of EU energy needs -- including power generation and biofuels -- from renewable sources by 2020, up from about 7 percent now.
Biofuels, produced largely from crops and which produce few emissions, should account for at least 10 percent of vehicle fuel in the EU by 2020.
Brussels reiterated a previous target of improving energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2020.
The Commission stated its preference for requiring utilities that generate power to sell off distribution assets as the most effective way to making the sector more competitive and help drive down prices.
But, faced with opposition to that idea from France and Germany, it also proposed a second option of allowing utilities to retain ownership of their grids while turning over management to an independent system operator.
The EU should speak with one voice when negotiating with energy producers such as Russia, Norway, Algeria in central Asia as competition for resources intensifies.
The plan says the choice of whether to use nuclear power should remain up to individual governments but moves to cut nuclear output should be accompanied by introduction of supplementary low-carbon energy sources.
The Commission also suggested creating an EU-wide high-level group of experts to eventually propose European rules on standards and safety.
The Commission proposed a mechanism giving it the chance to review some decisions of national regulators which affect the internal market. It also suggested creating a body at EU-level to ensure cross-border energy trading works in practice.
Among other measures, Brussels proposed four co-ordinators to advance the most important projects:
-- links between Germany, Poland and Lithuania
-- links to off-shore wind power sites in Northern Europe
-- electricity interconnections between France and Spain
-- the Nabucco pipeline between the Caspian region and central Europe.
CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE
The Commission said it wanted to expand the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to help curb emissions. Brussels envisages the creation of 12 large-scale CCS demonstration plants by 2015. By 2020, all new coal-fired power plants should be fitted with CCS, the Commission said.
Call for 20% EU cut in greenhouse gas emissions
The Guardian (U,K,) Jan. 10, 2007
The EU must cut greenhouse gases by at least 20% from their 1990 levels by 2020, the European commission said today.
The commission said a global decrease of 30% was needed to prevent damage from climate change.
In unveiling its new energy strategy, the EU's executive arm said cuts of 30% for the whole world would help ensure temperatures rose by no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The report - which echoed warnings contained in Sir Nicholas Stern's analysis, commissioned by Tony Blair - said there would be billions of pounds of damage if action was not taken.
It predicted rising temperatures would kill an extra 11,000 people in Europe every year within 10 years even if today's proposals were acted upon swiftly.
Residents of Italy and Spain could expect to suffer most from drought, fire, dry soil and other climate change-related factors, the report said.
The commission said its targets were "both technically feasible and economically affordable if action is taken quickly," and called on other regions to act as well.
The EU has repeatedly said the US - the world's biggest polluter - and other major economies would have to play their part in confronting climate change.
"This is by far the most ambitious target by any country or group of countries around the world," the commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, said as he unveiled the new strategy.
"We are not speaking about European warming, we are speaking about global warming."
However, environmentalists criticised the commission for setting an EU target below the one it is seeking for the world as a whole.
The conservation group WWF pointed out that the UK and some other EU governments - including Germany, the current holder of the EU presidency, France and Sweden - have already offered support for the higher 30% greenhouse gas reduction target.
"It is staggering that, despite clear support for achievable, tougher targets from the biggest carbon emitters in the EU, the commission has set targets that are substantially lower," Keith Allott, the head of WWF-UK's climate change programme, said.
"The UK must ensure that the 30% figure is put firmly back on the table before the vital summit of EU heads of state in March."
The EU energy commission said it was high time Europe had an energy policy to fight climate change, reduce the risk of external dependency and increase the competitiveness of the European economy.
The vulnerability of EU energy supplies has been highlighted by the recent dispute between Russia and Belarus that has hit oil exports to several EU nations, including Germany and Poland.
A similar row between Russia and Ukraine a year ago also disrupted supplies to some EU countries.
The union has sought to play a leading role in climate change by introducing an emissions trading scheme (ETS), in which businesses are allocated carbon emission allowances.
The scheme penalises heavy polluters financially because they have to buy extra permits if they exceed their allowances.
To make energy markets more efficient, the commission wants to break up huge power companies such as Germany's E.ON, separating their generation and distribution businesses to avoid a conflict of interest.
However, given German and French opposition to the idea, it recommended the lesser option of utilities handing over the management of grid businesses while retaining ownership.
Brussels will also look at strengthening the role of regulators to promote the development of a smoothly functioning internal EU market for electricity and gas.
The EU energy strategy will be debated by environment ministers of the bloc's 27 countries in Brussels next month.