25th Oct 2021

EU toughens up on CO2 emissions curbs

With its green credentials at stake, the European Commission has deemed too weak nine of the ten national pollution-reducing plans it has received from member states.

Aiming to justify its "leadership role" in pro-environment issues, Brussels on Wednesday (29 November) slashed the industry allowances by seven percent from those proposed by member states for 2008-2012 and seven percent below 2005 emissions.

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Environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said that he was being "firm and fair" and that the steps represented a "credibility test for Europe."

Germany – the biggest polluter in the EU – has been asked to reduce its carbon emissions by six percent while Lithuania has been told to make the biggest cut in percentage terms down from the proposed 16.6 tonnes of carbon to 8.8 million tonnes.

Other member states told to reduce the carbon emissions caps are Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia and Sweden.

Only the UK's plan was accepted so long as the installations it has in Gibraltar are included. Other national plans are still to come, including from big polluter Poland.

The commission's move comes as member states have been making a mockery of the so-called Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by being overly generous with allowances and in some cases giving industry the chance to pollute even more.

Under the scheme, industry is given a number of pollution credits allowing those who pollute less to sell their allowances to those who dirty the environment more.

The scheme came into effect in January of last year with great fanfare as the first of its kind in the world. The commission has hoped to see a buoyant carbon market quickly established but prices dropped once it became clear that member states were too free with allowances.

"The Commission has assessed the plans in a consistent way to ensure equal treatment of member states and create the necessary scarcity in the European carbon market," said Mr Dimas.

The ETS is Europe's answer to its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change under which it has agreed to cut its carbon emissions by 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The bloc was spurred into action after it became clear that it was not on track to meet the targets although it has been a public champion of the Kyoto treaty.

Not far enough

Environment groups welcomed the commission's move but said it did not go far enough.

"The National Allocation Plans must reflect the principle that those who pollute more have to pay more. At the moment this is not the case", said Delia Villagrasa, Policy

Expert at WWF.

"The decision announced by the commission today is still not strict enough on member states that seek to shelter their polluting industries from tough emissions standards," said Mahi Sideridou, EU Climate Policy Director of Greenpeace.

Meanwhile, a report prepared by WWF and CAN-Europe noted that France's plan, which was withdrawn at the eleventh hour, gave its installations higher allowances than in the first ETS period to 2008.

For their part, business groups had lobbied for up to 10 percent cuts in emissions, a level they had argued would give more security in the carbon market.

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