EU and Switzerland to link carbon trading systems
Talks to link greenhouse gas emissions trading systems (ETS) in the EU and Switzerland are set to start early next year after EU environment ministers handed the European Commission a negotiating mandate on Monday (20 December).
The move marks the first time the EU has sought to link its ETS to a similar system outside the bloc, with the small Alpine nation of almost eight million inhabitants already operating a voluntary ETS as an alternative to a domestic fuel tax.
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EU sources say the negotiations could be conducted in under a year, complementing the scheme's extension to Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland where similar trading system did not previously exist.
Under the current phase of the EU's ETS (2008-2012), pollution permits are handed out to energy-intensive sectors free-of-charge. The number of free permits is set to be scaled back in 2013 after member states' experts reached a deal in Brussels last week.
Many environmental NGOs brandished the deal as a capitulation to industry concerns however, while Poland is also raising objections.
Warsaw is concerned the deal to scale back free permits will discriminate against the country's high usage of coal, although changes are unlikely to the agreement, officials suggest.
Tension over carbon permits resulted in a heated brawl in the Ukrainian parliament last Thursday after investigators accused opposition leader and former prime minister Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of misusing funds from the 2009 sale of emissions permits to Japan
The punch up between opposition and government MPs left six people hospitalised.
Equally controversial, although less violent, EU environment ministers on Monday signed off on a compromise agreement reached between EU experts last week on limiting CO2 emissions from vans over the coming decade.
EU climate commission Connie Hedegaard defended the final decision as an "important compromise", conceding that car-manufacturing nations such as Germany, France and Italy had won concessions.
Under the deal, new vans sold in the EU will only be allowed to emit 175g CO2/km in 2017 and 147g CO2/km in 2020. The original Commission proposal was for 135g CO2/km in 2020.
"The automotive industry, which has benefited from billions of euros of taxpayers money in subsidies, low interest loans and research grants has once again bullied politicians into getting an easy ride," said Kerstin Meyer at the time, a campaigner with the NGO Transport & Environment.
Environment ministers also reached a political agreement to toughen EU rules on biocides - a range of toxic chemicals used to control pests including rat poisons and wood preservatives.
If approved by the European parliament, the new rules would step up the list of EU restrictions already in place since 2000.