EU summit adopts bold environmental Strategy
Reuters News Service, March 9, 2007
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders clinched agreement on Friday on a bold long-term strategy for energy policy and climate change aimed at leading the world in the fight against global warming, diplomats said.
The deal setting binding targets for slashing greenhouse gas emissions, developing renewable energy sources, promoting energy efficiency and using biofuels laid down a challenge to the United States and other industrialized powers to follow suit.
"There's a deal on the whole package," one diplomat said. He explained that while the 27 leaders had set binding Europe-wide objectives, "setting national targets will be done with the consent of the member states".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chaired a two-day summit, put forward the key compromise to secure agreement to set a legally binding target for renewable fuels such as solar, wind and hydro-electric power -- the most contentious issue.
Leaders accepted the target of 20 percent of renewable sources in EU energy consumption by 2020 in exchange for flexibility on each country's contribution to the common goal.
"This text is indeed a breakthrough as regards the environment and climate change policy of the European Union," Merkel said.
Germany added wording to win over states reliant on nuclear energy, led by France, or coal, such as Poland, and small countries with few energy resources, such as Cyprus and Malta, by adding references to the national energy mix.
"Differentiated national overall targets" for renewables should be set "with due regard to a fair and adequate allocation taking account of different national starting points", it said.
On Thursday, the 27 leaders committed themselves to a target of reducing EU greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for heating the planet, by 20 percent by 2020 and offered to go to 30 percent if major nations such as the United States, Russia, China and India follow suit.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called it "the most ambitious package ever agreed by any commission or any group of countries on energy security and climate protection.
The statement also set a 10 percent minimum target for biofuels in transport to be introduced by 2020 in a cost-efficient way.
Renewables account for less than 7 percent of the EU energy mix and the bloc is falling short of its existing targets both for low-carbon energy and to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
In an attempt to balance pro- and anti-nuclear power states, wording was added on the contribution of nuclear energy "in meeting growing concerns about safety of energy supply and CO2 emissions reductions while ensuring that nuclear safety and security are paramount in the decision-making process".
Several EU states are fundamentally opposed to using nuclear power or, like Germany, in the process of phasing it out.
Anti-nuclear Austria hastened to say that in its eyes nuclear power had nothing to do with sustainable energy.
Poland won a commitment to "a spirit of solidarity amongst member states" in the draft -- code for western Europe helping former Soviet bloc states if Russia cuts off energy supplies.
Several other new ex-communist member states in central Europe fear huge costs from the green energy revolution.
French President Jacques Chirac insisted at his last formal EU summit before leaving office that the bloc recognize that nuclear, which provides 70 percent of France's power, must also play a role in Europe's drive to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
As this year's chair of the Group of Eight industrialized powers, Merkel wants the EU to set the environmental agenda.
The Brussels summit outcome will form the basis of the EU's position in international talks to find a replacement to the U.N. Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Environmentalists want the bloc to go further in its efforts to fight climate change. But European business is concerned it will foot the bill by losing competitiveness to dirtier but cheaper foreign rivals.
The European Commission has proposed that big utility groups be forced to sell or separate their generation businesses and distribution grids in a process known as "ownership unbundling". Merkel said she did not expect such an agreement.
The draft statement said the EU agreed on the need for "effective separation of supply and production activities from network operations" but made no reference to breaking up energy giants such as Germany's E.ON and RWE and Gaz de France and EDF.
EU drafts compromise agreement on climate change
International Herald Tribune, March 9, 2007
BRUSSELS: The European Union on Friday drafted a compromise agreement that would make Europe the world leader in the fight against climate change, but that would also allow some of Europe's most polluting countries to limit their environmental goals.
The draft agreement, reached after two days of heated negotiations, commits the bloc to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020. It also will require the EU to derive a fifth of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar energy, while fueling 10 percent of its cars and trucks on biofuels made from plants.
But under pressure from several countries of the former Soviet bloc, which rely heavily on cheap coal and oil for their energy and are reluctant to switch to more costly environmentally friendly alternatives, the EU agreed that individual targets would be allowed for each of the 27 EU members to meet the renewable energy goal.
That means that Europe's worst polluters in the fast-growing economies of the East will probably face less stringent targets than their Western counterparts.
Many of the eight former Communist nations that joined the EU in May 2004 are far behind the rest of the union in developing renewable energy. Poland, for example, derives more than 90 percent of its energy for heating from coal.
During the negotiations, landlocked countries like Slovakia and Hungary argued that developing solar and wind- based energy would burden them unfairly.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that the agreement would help the EU become a model for the rest of the world. "This text really gives European Union policies a new quality and will establish us as a world pioneer," she said. She said she planned to press the issue in June at a meeting in Germany of the Group of 8 nations, including the United States, Japan and Russia.
The European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, called the measures "the most ambitious package ever agreed by any institution on energy security and climate change," and expressed hope that they would spur the world's biggest polluters, including the United States, China and India, to take similar action.
In a nod to President Jacques Chirac of France, who lobbied hard for the EU to include nuclear power as a noncarbon energy alternative, the draft acknowledges the role of nuclear power. It quotes a European Commission report saying that nuclear energy could help reduce greenhouse gases and cushion Europe against supply crises.
The move met stiff resistance from Austria, Denmark and Ireland, where nuclear energy is regarded with deep suspicion. While France contends that soaring energy needs, climate change and fears of energy-supply disruption make the use of nuclear power more vital than ever, skeptics counter that it is too costly and dangerous to be viable.
The EU leaders emphasized their commitment for a more collective approach with energy suppliers, as part of an effort to reduce dependency on oil and gas imports from Russia. EU officials said that the bloc was keen to diversify supply routes in response to the recent cases of Russia blocking pipelines carrying oil and gas toward the West.
Some European business leaders fear that overly ambitious environmental goals risk undermining European economic competitiveness. This argument has strong echoes in the United States, which has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it would hamper economic growth and give India and China an unfair advantage. Even Germany, which is spearheading the drive to cut greenhouse gas emissions, has been reluctant to take on its automobile industry, which is among Europe's worst offenders in spewing carbon dioxide into the air.
Ernest-Antoine Seillière, head of BusinessEurope, the pan-European business lobby, said that mandatory renewable targets had unknown and potentially enormous costs that could hobble European industry. "No one has any idea, the foggiest idea on what the costs can be, the social costs or financial costs," he said.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, complained that the EU's lofty ambitions to fight global warming would not succeed unless they were matched by the United States. The EU produces about 14 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions while the United States produces more than a quarter.
Friends of the Earth, the Brussels- based lobbying group, noted that bold environmental targets, however commendable, could prove meaningless unless they were binding, since countries often flout them with little accountability. It pointed to a recent European Environment Agency study showing that seven EU countries including Spain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Italy and Portugal were set to miss their own Kyoto targets.
The EU, meanwhile, is grappling over how to liberalize its ¬250 billion, or $330 billion, gas and electricity markets. The European Commission has proposed that big utility groups be forced to sell or separate their generation businesses and distribution grids. But France and Germany want to allow management to maintain ownership of both grids and generators.
Energy was not the only divisive topic at the summit. EU leaders also are at odds over the wording of a declaration that will be presented in Berlin on March 24-25 to mark the 50th anniversary of the EU's founding.
The declaration is nonbinding and entirely symbolic. But countries cannot agree on the wording of the text, which was supposed to unify the continent, but risks dividing it instead.
Merkel, a practical-minded physicist with a self-professed distaste for EU jargon, has been pushing for the so-called Berlin Declaration to be brief three pages at most and include a straight- forward, easy-to-understand message highlighting the bloc's accomplishments during the past half-century.
But Britain is adamant that it should not include any reference to the EU's beleaguered constitution, which has been rejected in France and the Netherlands and faces deep skepticism among many Britons. EU officials said that this could force the declaration's drafters to eschew the word constitution and opt for the less elegant term "institutional settlement" instead.
Poland has insisted that it include a reference to the suffering of the EU's eastern bloc under Communism, while others want a reference to Europe's Christian values a move that could upset Europe's large Muslim minority as well as Muslim Turkey, which aspires to join the Union.