EU: Commission warns “more action needed on climate change”

When assessing the current situation, the conclusions are "not very positive", says the European Commission. "Emissions are again on an upward track. Therefore, more needs to be done in order to curb this trend and for the EU to stand a chance of meeting its commitment".

In a Communication intended for the Cologne European Council on 4 and 5 June, the Commission outlines what it considers the EU should do in order to curb the current trends and achieve the Kyoto target by the end of the commitment period 2008 to 2012.

According to the Commission, further work on implementing policies and measures across all policy sectors is of primary importance. “All sectors will have to make a contribution to the reduction of emissions. The most important sectors where action needs to be taken or further pursued are transport, energy, industry and agriculture, but also private individuals and households will have to make an effort”.

After having more or less stabilised emissions in the EU at 1990 levels, current trends predict again an increase for the coming years. Without additional policy measures, EU total greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase by some 6% in 2010 from 1990 levels. Comparing these “business as usual” estimates to the EU Kyoto target implies an almost double reduction effort of – 14% (around 600 Mt of CO2 equivalent). This amount can become significantly higher in the case of a long period of high economic growth combined with historically low energy prices.

The Commission expresses the hope that in their meeting next month heads of State will “give a clear mandate for Member States as well as the EU to come forward with strong proposals and decisions that will lead to substantial emission reductions”. It says such a mandate should facilitate progress on proposals for example in the areas of taxation, energy and transport, on which decisions have been pending or blocked all too long.

Moving backwards?

According to Michel Raquet of Greenpeace’s European Unit, the Commission’s communication does not effectively promote early implementation of the EU wide measures required to implement the Kyoto protocol. “Instead it relies on vague commitments for voluntary industry agreements ‘as soon as possible’ and even vaguer references to having an EU wide emission trading scheme, possibly by 2005 after possibly having a consultation process in the year 2000”, he said.

In 1997 the Commission identified policies and measures for reducing CO2 emissions alone by around 800 million tonnes, 17 per cent below the 1990 level by 2010. Much of this action was already cost-effective at that time. “Less than two year later, this potential seems to have been dramatically, and seemingly arbitrarily reduced by 25 per cent,” said Raquet.

The Commission uses a figure of 50 Euros per tonne of CO2 saved as a basis for purchasing emission certificates from outside the EU under the Kyoto protocol. “The Commission omits to explain that purchasing emission certificates from outside the EU under the trading provisions of the Kyoto Protocol is likely to actually allow emissions to grow,” said Greenpeace Climate Policy Director Bill Hare. The EU has been under pressure from the US to allow the sale of emission permits by countries such as Russia and the Ukraine, whose CO2 emissions have been drastically reduced by economic collapse rather than policy implementation.

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