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By Pete Harrison and Huw Jones
BRUSSELS/STRASBOURG Dec 17 The European Union
finalised plans for its battle against global warming on
Wednesday, seeking to lead the way towards a broad alliance
including other big polluters like China and the United States.
The European Parliament approved a cut in carbon dioxide
emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, heeding
warnings of severe weather, famine and drought as the atmosphere
The deal takes on a greater importance coming just before
Barack Obama assumes the U.S. presidency, amid hopes in Europe
he will cooperate more on tackling climate change than incumbent
George W. Bush.
"Happily Bush is going," said European Environment
Commissioner Stavros Dimas. "Everybody knows what Mr Obama has
set as priorities -- energy security and climate change."
World leaders will meet in Copenhagen next December to try
to agree a global deal, but preparatory talks in Poland ended
last week with deep divisions between rich and poor nations.
The advancing economic crisis had at times threatened to
derail the EU's climate negotiations.
A myriad of concessions to water down the costs for industry
helped pin down a deal, although this fuelled criticism from
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi had fought successfully for industries like German
steel, chemicals and cement and Italian glass and ceramics, as
well as their powerful auto sectors.
Lawmakers approved measures on Wednesday to cut CO2
emissions from new cars by 18 percent by 2015, after intense
lobbying by the industry won it a three year reprieve.
"There was an explosion in dissent and manufacturers were at
loggerheads," said Italian socialist Guido Sacconi, who led the
rules for cars through parliament.
"Trying to secure a conclusion came when the car industry
found itself at the epicentre of the economic crisis and this
heightened difficulties," he added.
Green group politicians branded the rules as a sell-out to
industry, while industry group ACEA repeated calls for billions
of euros in EU support to help manufacturers meet the targets.
The biggest threat to a deal was the opposition of nine
former communist nations, which feared the deal would ramp up
costs for their highly polluting coal-fired power sectors.
To buy their support, the EU has offered a partial exemption
and agreed to give them 12 percent of revenues from the EU's
flagship emissions trading scheme (ETS), which makes industry
buy permits to pollute.
The European Commission, which originated the climate laws
in January, demonstrated its appetite for further action by
adopting rules on eco-friendly design on Wednesday, which would
cap the energy consumption of televisions on standby mode.
Environmentalists vented their anger over the dilution of
the EU's ambition, most of them criticising the high levels of
carbon offsets, which allow member states to pay for most of
their emissions cuts in developing nations rather than at home.
"People will look back at 2008 and ask...knowing what they
knew then, why did they not do more to save all of us from the
unbearable impacts from a warming planet?" said British Green
group politician Caroline Lucas.
(Reporting by Huw Jones, writing by Pete Harrison; editing by
Sue Thomas and Anthony Barker)