24th Sep 2020

EU backs CO2 cuts but leaves burden-sharing open

EU member states have made a "historic decision" calling for a deal by the developed world to cut 1990 levels of CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2020. If such an international deal fails, the EU's own emissions should be cut by 20 percent, they have said.

EU environment ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (20 February) decided on new targets to curb global warming as a follow-up to the current international Kyoto Protocol in which industrialised countries have pledged to reduce their combined carbon emissions to below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

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"All member states…have made it clear that an international objective of a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2020 is right and necessary in order to keep global warming below the 2 percent centigrade by the end of the century," said German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel who also confirmed the EU-wide commitment to at least cut 20 percent if this worldwide objective fails.

"What we still need to agree to however is exactly the way in which we achieve the objectives through a fair system of burden sharing within the European Union," he added, calling the EU agreement an "historic decision."

Mr Gabriel – whose country currently holds the EU presidency – said the targets would be binding and based on the 1990 base-year when calculating them, but added that other base-years could be used when deciding on how to share the burden.

Most of the post-communist EU states are concerned about the 1990 base year because their polluting emission levels were particularly low that year due to the collapse of communist era industry.

A change for some member states to another year with more greenhouse gas emissions would therefore make their target less challenging, although the general EU CO2 cut will still be based on the 1990 level.

Mr Gabriel said that member states with a more stable economy such as Germany might have to take on more reductions than other, mainly new member states.

"Different member states can achieve different targets, it depends on the economic situation in the country," Mr Gabriel said.

The EU has set a minimum 20 percent target for itself in case a deal for the developed world fails, because the cost for the EU economy would be too high if only Europe would commit to curb global heating.

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said the member states had supported the "need for the European Union to continue its leadership in fighting climate change."

The European Commission will now start the more complicated and technical work of how exactly to share the burden of cutting greenhouse gas emissions among the 27 EU member states.

Commission official Juergen Lefevere said the EU executive would look at national social situations, the EU's emissions trading scheme and renewable energy among many other criteria when deciding how to share the burden. He added there was no timeline for the commission's work.

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