EU ready to soften its earlier stance


The European Union, which is calling for dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, is ready to soften its position by moving from its proposed 15 per cent cut target to below 10 per cent, a Japanese newspaper reported at the weekend. The EU has unofficially told Japan, host of the conference, that it is ready to accept an agreement to cut gas emissions by a figure below 10 per cent beyond 1990 levels by 2010, a Japanese government source told the Yomiuri Shimbun.

The EU position has been the most radical of the groups to negotiate at Kyoto, but it has been clear for some time that it would be forced to make concessions if a common position were to be reached. Unilateral cuts by the EU are not regarded as feasible by negotiators - they would undermine the EU's competitiveness and leave it with scant bargaining room.

The Commissioner for the Environment, Ms Ritt Bjerregaard, has been most vocal about the US position. She berates Washington for its "lack of ambition" and denounces the US argument that developing countries should also bear their share of cuts as a cynical evasion of its own responsibilities. (Industrialised countries are responsible for more than three-quarters of the CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning.)

Responding to President Clinton's revised position for the summit, which he announced on October 23rd, she argued that "the Convention on Climate Change as adopted at the Rio summit in 1992 urges emission stabilisation by 2000 at 1990 levels for industrialised countries. The US position to reach this goal by some time in 2010 is therefore a significant step in the wrong direction."

The EU is willing to commit itself to a collective target of cuts on the 1990 level of emissions of 7.5 per cent by 2005 and 15 per cent by 2010. This allows for some still-developing countries like Ireland actually to increase their emissions by 15 per cent. The Commission estimates that such cuts will cost the EU in 2010 between £11 billion and £38 billion or between 0.2 and 0.4 per cent of GDP.

Ms Bjerregaard is clear that the targets are feasible. "It must be done and can be done, provided the political will is there."

Such ambitious targets have been welcomed by environmental groups but condemned as unrealistic in Washington.

Yet a White Paper on Renewable Energy in preparation in the Commission and leaked to Greenpeace makes it clear that a significant switch to renewable and energy cuts is feasible. The paper says that a third of the needed cuts could be met by renewable energy sources whose share of the energy market, it proposes, could be doubled to 12 per cent of gross inland energy consumption. The paper claims that such a shift in priorities could also create some 1.2 million new jobs and enormous export opportunities.

This would require investment of £4.2 billion a year, mostly from the private sector - less than half the current EU member-states' level of state subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear programmes annually.

"This Commission blueprint gives total credibility to the EU's negotiating position in Kyoto," Ms Aphrodite Mourelatou of Greenpeace said.