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20th Sep 2021

Brussels examines post-Kyoto options

The European Commission is looking into ways to continue cutting greenhouse gasses post-Kyoto by improving the bloc's main tool in the fight against climate change - the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS).

"We have to keep the ETS simple and predictable," said Mogens Peter Carl, the head of the commission's environment department.

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The emissions trading scheme (ETS) was launched in January 2005 to put a ceiling on the total emissions by major industrial energy users and reduce carbon dioxide being pumped into the air - widely blamed for climate change.

The exchange scheme is the bloc's main tool in reducing emissions by 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, under the 1997 international Kyoto protocol on climate change.

Speaking on Thursday (19 October) at a Brussels think tank – CEPS – Mr Carl said the EU executive was looking into certain changes a possible continuation of the ETS scheme could have after 2012.

First of all, the scheme might in the future include more gasses than just the current loner CO2, such as N2O and CH4.

He also explained that the commission is going to clarify some technical issues that make member states interpret the ETS differently and which can therefore distort the competition of CO2 polluting allowances on climate exchange.

Brussels would also seek to harmonise the ETS further by proposing the establishment of a single EU-wide cap on pollution units allowed.

Another major difference for a potential post-Kyoto EU climate exchange could be that the allowances would be auctioned, instead of given out freely among Europe's main polluting industry, and traded globally.

The commission will this month come out with a new proposal to introduce aviation into the emissions trading scheme – a move the airline lobby prefers to raising air passenger taxes.

The EU executive will also publish a report on the functioning of the emissions trading scheme.

Mr Carl said he personally hoped that the "EU would express its willingness for the post-2012 period to continue whatever happens to international negotiations." He explained that he would like to see reductions of polluting units becoming mandatory so that prices on the market could become more competitive.

"There is absolutely no doubt that this is the most important issue - or danger - the world faces today and the next 50 years," Mr Carl stressed, and added that to avoid a "full scale disaster", emissions need to decrease over the next 20 years.

He explained that the US state of California had recently been in contact with the EU executive to help set up a comparable trading scheme which could be linked to the European climate exchange – something the commission is pursuing at the moment, he added.

"There is a growing international realisation that urgent action has to be taken," Mr Carl pointed out. "To make this possible such other schemes need an absolute cap and a reduction obligation as well – otherwise it doesn't make sense."

Last month, the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a new law that imposes the US's first cap on greenhouse gas emissions. "We simply must do everything we can in our power to slow down global warming before it is too late," Mr Schwarzenegger said at the time.

EU leaders intervene

Meanwhile, UK prime minister Tony Blair and his Dutch counterpart Jan Peter Balkenende have called for urgent EU action to fight climate change ahead of an informal meeting of European leaders in Finland that has energy on top of their agenda.

Unless the EU curbs greenhouse gas emissions, the effects on the climate will be "catastrophic" and "would have serious consequences for our economic growth prospects, the safety of our people and the supply of resources, most notably energy," said the letter from the two leaders to their EU counterparts published on Thursday night (19 October).

It calls for "Setting out a road-map to achieve EU consensus on the main elements of an effective and durable post 2012 framework, equivalent in scale to the nature of the challenge we face."

In a separate move, Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has also written to European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso asking him to push climate change and renewable energy issues in Lahti.

The Danish letter comes after the Danish parliament last week voted through a list of pro-green energy targets for Copenhagen to push at EU level.

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