January 23, 2008 / 2:00 PM / 10 years ago

EU climate change plans get cool reception

LONDON (Reuters) - Activists and environmentalists reacted cooly on Wednesday to the European Commission’s new plans to cut climate warming carbon emissions by one-fifth and boost energy from renewables like wind, waves and sun by 2020.

The Commission’s plans will implement renewable energy and emissions-cutting targets agreed by EU leaders last March, and need approval by member states and the European Parliament.

But the 20 percent greenhouse gas emissions cuts are well below the 25-40 percent target the developed world agreed at a UN meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali last month.

“The promising parts of this energy package are overshadowed by a greenhouse gas target that falls well short of what is needed,” said Friends of the Earth campaigner Sonja Meister. “Reducing greenhouse gases by only 20 per cent is simply not enough. The EU must live up to the agreements made in Bali.”

Environmentalists and business welcomed the boost to renewables given by the commitment to get 20 percent of all EU energy from these sources by 2020, and called on governments to make the money and conditions available to make it happen.

But activists rejected the EU’s plan to get 10 percent of road fuels from agriculture as unworkable and unsustainable, noting the vast swathes of rain forest that have already been cut down to make way for production of so-called biofuels.

“The EU target for biofuels is a mistake. Biomass is more efficiently used for electricity and heat production, rather than to fuel high-consumption cars,” said Greenpeace renewables campaigner Frauke Thies.

Campaigners welcomed the changes proposed in the EU’s carbon emissions trading scheme from 2013, specifically that power generators will have to pay for their pollution permits.

Currently the power utilities are given the permits free of charge, although they have charged consumers the price the permits fetch on the open market thereby earning themselves billions of dollars in windfall profits.

But the activists criticised proposed loopholes for smokestack industries facing competition from countries outside the 27-nation bloc with no such anti-pollution measures.

“In exempting these sectors from auctioning until 2020, the Commission is starting from the negative assumption that no other countries will introduce binding measures to reduce emissions,” said Green Europarliamentarian Caroline Lucas.

Industry lobbyists had threatened that if they faced strong extra carbon costs they would simply relocate outside Europe.

Scientists warn that global average temperatures will rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century due to burning fossil fuels for power and transport, causing floods and famines and putting millions of lives at risk.

Despite the criticisms, the EU hopes its package of emissions control measures, the most far reaching of any to date, will act as a spur to action by other major polluters including the United States and China.

Editing by James Jukwey

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