Europe: Sets new targets on GHG cuts, “worried” about Bush

by Brian Kenety

Brussels, 24 Jan 2001 (IPS) -- The top European Union (EU) environment official Wednesday expressed concern that the US president George W. Bush would undermine international efforts to cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions widely believed to cause global warming.

Presenting the European Commission’s new action programme for the environment, which envisions global cuts in greenhouse gases by 20 to 40 percent by 2020, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström told journalists here that Bush should be judged on his actions.

However, referring to the Bush presidential campaign’s opposition to elements of the Kyoto Protocol, the climate change treaty negotiated at a United Nations summit three years ago, she said, “I am a bit worried, I have to say, after some of the statements I have seen”.

The 1997 agreement calls on developed countries to collectively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions - mainly carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels - by at least five percent below 1990 levels by 2012.  Under the treaty, which has not yet been ratified by any industrialised countries, the United States would cut emissions by seven percent below 1990 levels, EU Member States by an average of eight percent, and Japan by six percent.

The Commission’s proposal announced Wednesday - ‘Environment 2010: Our Future, Our Choice’ - focuses on four major areas for action; climate change, health and the environment, nature and bio-diversity and natural resource management.

The focus of the proposed new programme is the achievement of the EU’s 8% emission reduction target for 2008-2012 under the Kyoto Protocol.  However, the Commission also calls for more far-reaching global emission cuts in the order of 20 to 40 percent by 2020 and cites the scientific estimate that in the longer term a 70 percent global greenhouse gas emission reduction as compared to 1990 will be needed to prevent global warming.

Commissioner Wallström stresses: “The scientists have told us clearly that we must face up to climate change or else accept dramatic consequences. Making the Kyoto Protocol operational is not easy, as everybody knows, but it can really only be a first step.”

Environment ministers and diplomats from more than 180 countries suspended intensive negotiations Nov. 25 towards that “first step” after failing to reach agreement on guidelines for reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases at The Hague summit. The talks ended in failure because the United States and the EU could not agree on several key protocol provisions - including the amount of credit a country could get by investing in climate-protection projects abroad, and how much credit toward emissions cuts could be gained by using forests to absorb carbon dioxide.

Key political issues including an international emissions trading system, the rules for counting emissions reductions from carbon “sinks” - such as forests - and a compliance regime have not been resolved.  Rules for setting up the so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which would allow developed countries to meet a portion of their emissions reduction targets by funding clean energy projects in developing countries, are also open questions.

Delegates later agreed to resume the Sixth Session of the Conference of Parties in late May in Bonn.

However, the Netherlands, whose environment minister, Jan Pronk, chairs the conference, said Wednesday that Bush has asked for a two-month postponement in order to allow his administration to prepare.

Under the Clinton administration, US negotiators had pressed for unlimited emissions trading, which would allow companies to buy and sell carbon credits or invest in clean technologies abroad to reach their emissions reduction targets.

The EU, however, wants countries to achieve a significant portion of their emissions cuts through domestic programmes that scale down the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, factories and automobiles.

‘Environment 2010: Our Future, Our Choice’ points to the need for structural changes especially in the EU’s transport and energy sectors, for stronger efforts in energy-efficiency and energy-saving, for the establishment of an EU-wide emissions trading scheme, for further research and technological development and for awareness-raising with citizens so that they can contribute to reducing emissions.  At the same time, it acknowledges a certain degree of climate change is expected to happen and says the EU needs to put in place measures to adapt. – SUNS4822