5th Dec 2023

EU 'credibility' on climate change fight at stake, says Barroso

  • Barroso speaking on Tuesday (Photo: europa.eu)

Two days before what is set to be a contentious summit on environment issues, the European Commission has insisted that for Europe to be credible on fighting climate change it must set binding targets for future renewable energy reliance.

Two targets are on the table – that by 2020 sources such as solar and wind power should account for 20 percent of the bloc's consumption and that biofuels should make up 10 percent – but whether to set the goals in concrete is a source of deep friction between member states.

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With EU leaders meeting on Thursday (8 March), the commission has put its political cards on the table and called for national governments to do the same.

"From Moscow to Washington, they will be watching us to see if we are really credible," said commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

"It is much more credible to have a binding target than an indicative target," he added.

But a bastion of member states, including France and several central and eastern European countries, are leading opposition to mandatory targets.

Although Paris is seen as key for an overall agreement, its mooted compromise of higher targets on low-carbon energy - but including nuclear energy - is deeply opposed by non-nuclear countries such as Ireland and Austria.

Mr Barroso also said that EU member states should commit to the headline goal of cutting greenhouse emissions by 20 percent by 2020, rising to 30 percent if other developed countries come on board.

He said that if that target is agreed, the commission would come with proposals before the end of the year on how to divide the emissions reductions between member states.

The commission president also promised to press governments at the summit to "unbundle" their big energy concerns – separating supply and distribution. But he is unlikely to get his way on this with several countries preferring a softer option of keeping companies in charge of both operations but legally separating them.

Advisory committee

Mr Barroso also introduced a high-level panel to advise the EU on energy and climate change.

The 11-member team, which met for the first time on Tuesday and has another meeting scheduled for May, includes former chief World Bank economist Sir Nicholas Stern, author of an influential report last year on the economic benefits of fighting climate change.

But while Mr Barroso was happy to preach the importance of binding green targets for creating confidence within industry for developing new technologies and giving the EU a leadership role in the global fight against climate change, he made it clear that the personal and the public should not be mixed.

Rejecting calls to lead by example and change his gas-guzzling SUV for a more eco-friendly vehicle Mr Barroso said "I believe in the freedom of citizens" adding that they should not be forced to have a "certificate of good behaviour" on green issues.

Meanwhile, the panel itself has been welcomed in some quarters with Luxembourg green MEP Claude Turmes saying there is "not much expertise" in the commission itself on these topics.

He points out that the two people within the commission primarily responsible for drawing up the institution's energy paper published in January did not have a background in energy, but rather transport issues.

Green groups generally are highly critical of the EU's targets saying its 20 percent unilateral target is not enough to adhere to a wider aim of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above the temperature in pre-industrial times.

They also say the commission should be setting sectoral targets – such as for the highly-polluting transport sector – rather than just an overall goal whereby member states can pick and choose how they reach it.

Mr Turmes referred to parallels between the current climate change debate and the one on smoking in the 1960s, when scientific studies showed the harmful effects of smoking but where it took time for concrete action to be taken partly due to industry stalling tactics - a point also made in US politician Al Gore's recent global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth

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