European Court hears start of UK's legal challenge over emissions

The UK begins its legal challenge, this week, against the European Commission's rejection of Government plans to water down the emissions trading system.

The European Court will hear the UK's case for increasing its NAP this week.

The European Court will hear the UK's case for increasing its NAP this week.

The case revolves around the British Government's decision in November last year to make an amendment to its national allocation plan (NAP) for Phase 1 of the EU emissions trading system. This amendment would allow industry to emit a far greater volume of greenhouse gases than had originally been allocated (see related story).

At the time, environmental groups accused the government of "signing a polluters' charter", while the government said that initial projections of emissions had been "revised upward" after new calculations of the amount of carbon emitted from coal and gas burning and a reassessment of projected electricity demand.

The Commission refused the amendment and the Government was later forced to back track and issue allocations based on the original NAP (see related story), but is now fighting the case for the amendment to allow the extra emissions.

A judgement on the case is not expected until early 2006, but this hasn't stopped critics passing judgement on the government's stance on emissions.

"It is incredible that, whilst Defra is talking big on climate change, it is still attempting to take legal action against the European Commission in a ludicrous attempt to water down our emissions targets," said Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary.

"The latest statistics show greenhouse gas emissions rising, meaning we may miss our targets under the Kyoto protocol. Yet again, Labour's actions are failing to match their words on climate change. I call on them to enter into a cross-party dialogue to reach political consensus on how we can achieve the real reductions needed."

Other Government policies on climate change and renewable energy have also met with criticism this week. A report by Ernst & Young has shown that government failure to extend the renewables obligation is having an impact on renewable energy financing (see related story), while a report from the Association for the Conservation of Energy commissioned by the Green Party group at the European Parliament has highlighted a number of failures to fully implement EU laws designed to tackle climate change.

The report points out that the UK has:
  • delayed implementation of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, as well as making it weaker than originally intended;
  • failed to set binding targets for energy demand reduction in the Energy Services Directive;
  • Failed to promote small-scale combined heating and power plants in line with the cogeneration directive.

    Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP for South-East England, one of the report's commissioners, said: "Tony Blair has repeatedly told us that tackling climate change is a priority for the UK's presidency of the EU. But, this report makes clear that he hasn't even fully implemented the measures already adopted. It seems all his promises and fine words are little more than so much hot air."

    The report comes ahead of a meeting of EU environment ministers this week and urges the government to use the remainder of its EU presidency to adopt and strengthen relevant directives.

    By David Hopkins

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