EU Edges Closer to Climate Change, Stimulus Deals

December 12, 2008

European leaders moved towards agreement on Friday on a multi-billion dollar plan to tackle the global recession and a climate change plan amended to limit impact on struggling industries.

Green groups warned that the European Union could forfeit its credibility as a force in tackling climate change if it accepted too many changes to a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

One British group said compromises in climate policy, which will be key to world talks next year to produce a successor to the Kyoto pact on climate change, could amount to a ‘meltdown’.

The climate discussions took on a special significance, taking place some six weeks before Barack Obama takes over the U.S. presidency holding out the prospect of closer co-operation in matters of global warming.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had threatened to veto a deal without concessions to protect key industries, emerged from the first day of a two-day summit, declaring: “We are heading towards a compromise…We are getting what we want.”

Poland, which had demanded concessions on its heavily polluting coal-based power industry, was also cautiously optimistic. “The prime minister (Donald Tusk) achieved everything he wanted in negotiations on the climate package,” an official told Reuters. “The deal is flexible, allowing for the modernisation of the Polish power sector.”

The economic crisis sweeping Europe has further complicated climate talks that had already raised tensions in a 27-member bloc embracing former Soviet bloc states besides western Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opposes the heavy spending advocated by Britain and France for fear it could lead to escalating budget deficits, said at the start of the summit she was nonetheless keen to seal a €200 billion ($267 billion) stimulus package, amounting to some 1.5 percent of GDP.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday evening he thought EU leaders would agree on the main lines of the economic package and the climate deal on Friday. “The economic crisis will pass, the climate crisis will stay. We have to do something,” he told reporters.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said Friday would bring a ‘historic decision’ on energy and climate change. ‘Europe is going to show the way,’ he said.

Several leaders stressed the need to maintain the EU’s ambitious targets; but Merkel, seeking to limit damage to industry, appeared to have secured compromises.

Steel, cement, chemicals, paper and other industries will be sheltered from the added cost of buying permits to emit carbon dioxide from the EU’s flagship emissions trading scheme (ETS), according to a draft text that formed the basis for talks.

“This covers about 90 percent of industry, and I don’t see any reason why Germany would not accept this proposal,” German conservative Peter Liese told Reuters. “I see it as a victory.”

British Green group member Caroline Lucas said the proposals represented ‘the lowest possible common denominator’. ‘The eyes of the world are on the EU. The EU’s credibility as a leading actor on climate change is in freefall. It’s not too late for heads of state and government to intervene and save face.’

In their first session of the summit, leaders agreed in principle on a set of concessions to Ireland enabling Dublin to hold a second referendum by next November on the Lisbon treaty, intended to streamline EU decision making. The treaty was rejected at a first poll and needs approval from all states.

There was no opposition, there was no objection, there was no veto,” one European official said. Another stressed that the agreement was only provisional and there would be talks on the details of the arrangements on Friday.

The Lisbon Treaty — successor to the defunct EU constitution — aims to give the bloc more weight in the world by creating a long-term president and its own foreign policy supremo.

EU leaders aim to agree how to reach targets of slashing carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and winning 20 percent of the bloc’s energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar power by that date, ahead of global talks next year on a successor to the Kyoto agreement from 2012.

(Additional reporting by Marcin Grajewski and Pete Harrison in Brussels and Markus Wacket in Berlin, Dublin, London and Rome bureaus; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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