EU Drafts Plan to Battle Global Warming, Sets Binding Targets for Switch to Green Energy
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union leaders drafted an agreement Friday promising to take the lead in fighting global warming by setting binding targets to cut greenhouse gases and ensure a fifth of the bloc's energy comes from green power sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels.
Controversially, the draft, which was expected to be endorsed by the leaders by the end of Friday's summit, also noted the role nuclear power could play in tackling greenhouse gas emissions.
"This text really gives European Union policies a new quality and will establish us as a world pioneer," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters as she arrived to lead the talks.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the measures "the most ambitious package ever agreed by any institution on energy security and climate change."
Merkel was leading negotiations on details of the package, which includes a commitment to slash greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. By the same date the EU wants to ensure 20 percent of its power comes from renewable energy and 10 percent of its cars and trucks run on biolfuels made from plants.
European leaders hope their commitment to tackling climate change will encourage other leading polluters, such as the United States and China, to agree on deep emissions cuts. Merkel plans to present those plans to a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations that she will host in June.
"Europe only produces 15 percent of global CO2," Merkel said late Thursday. "The real climate problem will not be solved by Europe alone."
The final draft represents a compromise between nations that had demanded mandatory targets on clean energy, and eastern European nations led by Poland and Slovakia who had said they did not have the money to meet such high targets for developing costly alternatives. Those nations said they preferred to stay with cheaper, but more polluting options such as coal and oil.
While setting an overall 20 percent target for the bloc's use of renewable energy, the draft also says individual targets would be allowed for each of the 27 EU members.
"A differentiated approach to the contributions of the member states is needed, reflecting fairness (and) taking into account national circumstances," the draft says. It tasks the EU's executive Commission with establishing national targets for each country.
It also mentions solidarity between EU nations in times of energy supply crises from suppliers such as Russia, as demanded by the Poles.
Many of the former Communist nations that joined the EU in 2004 lag behind their Western neighbors in developing clean fuel. Although their economies are growing fast, most are still struggling to catch up with the West and say they need more time to meet the 20 percent target.
Cooler, landlocked countries such as Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic also argued that they were handicapped in developing wind, solar and water-based power sources, which recently gained wider use in countries such as Denmark and Spain.
The draft contains a reference to the role of nuclear power, a demand of the French, Czechs, Slovaks and others who argued it could play a crucial part in helping Europe move away from carbon fuels.
It says each EU nation should decide whether to use nuclear power, but takes note of a Commission report that says nuclear energy could contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and help alleviate worries about security of energy supply. It also stresses the need to improve nuclear safety.
Austria, Ireland and Denmark did not want the EU to sanction nuclear power, and the German government is split over whether to develop atomic energy. "Our Austrian attitude toward sustainable energy definitely does not include nuclear energy," Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik told reporters.
The leaders also agreed that EU nations should forge a common approach in dealing with its main foreign supplies of energy. The EU hopes to intensify imports from former Soviet nations such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and producers in Africa to reduce reliance on oil and gas supplies from Russia. They also want to diversity energy supply routes, a response to recent problems which have seen Russia turning off the taps on pipelines carrying oil and gas westward.
EU leaders asked regulators to develop a plan on opening the EU's internal energy market and overcoming problems such as overcharging and under-investment, which have been blamed for two major blackouts in the past year. They stopped short of endorsing a plan to split up national energy monopolies.
The EU's environmental agenda is to be pursued in parallel with commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. treaty on climate change. The major EU economies have committed to cut greenhouse gases by 8 percent of 1990 levels by 2012, and want the United States to sign the treaty. The U.S. argues, however, that Kyoto would hurt its economy and says it should also apply to surging Asian economies like China and India.
Associated Press Writers Jan Sliva, Aoife White and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.
Source: Associated Press