Obama needs to think beyond U.S. on climate: EU's Hedegaard

BRUSSELS Wed Nov 28, 2012 6:35pm GMT

European Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard of Denmark addresses a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels July 11, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

European Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard of Denmark addresses a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels July 11, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama needs to shift focus from domestic pressure to global environmental efforts, the European Union's climate chief said on Wednesday, a day after the president signed a rare U.S. law blocking a piece of EU emissions legislation.

Obama signed the EU Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act, even though he could have just allowed it to become law without adding his official approval.

The legislation can be used to shelter U.S. airlines from compliance with an EU law making all airlines pay for their carbon emissions if they use EU airports.

Obama's signature was particularly galling to the European Commission, the EU executive, because earlier this month it announced it was halting for a year its aviation requirement.

"I think the signing yesterday is very much linked to some domestic situation in the U.S. and the cooperation with the Congress," Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told a news conference.

She noted Obama had admitted immediately after his re-election that the U.S. had not done enough on climate and said he would announce news on climate policies after he had undertaken "a listening tour."

"I just hope that when the presidential listening tour is over, it won't be just the climate policies for a domestic audience, but also for the international audience that we will see."

The EU law making all airlines pay for their emissions has stirred international outcry and threats of a trade war.

The bloc decided on the law to fill a vacuum left by more than a decade of indecision at the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

So far, the ICAO has failed to deliver a global approach to tackling airline emissions, although the row over the EU's law has galvanized efforts and Hedegaard said progress at a meeting in November had prompted the proposal to halt enforcement

DOHA TALKS

The commissioner was speaking to reporters in Brussels ahead of her travel to international climate change talks in Doha, which began on Monday and continue for two weeks.

She will attend them next week to try to build on a deal last year to keep the Kyoto process on tackling climate change alive.

Hedegaard and the European Union were given much of the credit for clinching last year's deal, but another year of economic crisis has since undermined climate progress.

Some campaigners have said divisions in the European Union could be the biggest obstacle to further progress on an international climate agreement.

It has been squabbling for well over a year over what to do with a surplus of international pollution permits, which many in Europe say make it too cheap to pollute, while coal-dependent Poland is insisting it will not give any of its glut away.

Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec said on Tuesday the issue of the permits known as Assigned Amount Units (AAUs) was "a completely minor issue".

Hedegaard said the European Union wanted an ambitious agreement on AAUs, but also sought to downplay their significance, saying they would not impact the bloc's ability to deliver on its carbon-cutting targets.

"We need to get the question into the right perspective," she said.

Finance is another thorny issue as a gap looms after the end of this year when one installment of EU cash to help developing nations cope with climate change runs out.

For the period 2010-12, the European Union has delivered 7.2 billion euros ($9.31 billion), which Hedegaard said was "not a small thing in the economic climate we have.

Earlier this month, EU finance ministers failed to get any firm agreement on funds to follow, but Hedegaard said: "There was a very clear recognition we had to come up with more money."

(Editing by James Jukwey)

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