25th Oct 2016

Verheugen warns against climate 'hysteria'

  • Verheugen - concerned about the EU's competitiveness (Photo: European Commission)

EU industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen has warned against hysteria in the climate change debate as the bloc considers setting stringent new caps for greenhouse gas emissions at a summit later this week.

Sounding a dissonant note amid calls to make the EU a global leader in emissions cutting over the coming decade, Mr Verheugen told Germany's Bild am Sonntag that while climate change ought to be fought on all fronts, the EU "should not descend into hysterical action."

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The German commissioner also went on to speak about "strange trends" in public debate saying "two years ago, it was all 'jobs, jobs, jobs' now it's 'climate, climate, climate.'"

He reiterated his fear - expressed most recently at EU plans to get the car industry to make cars that pollute less - that by trying to raise the environment bar within the EU, the bloc risks losing out on competitiveness to other, less green, regions in the world.

"Our most important task will be to make sure that the US, China, India and Russia are just as engaged in climate protection as we are."

Mr Verheugen's words capture the current political struggle within the EU on how to reconcile being green with being competitive.

This division is likely to be played out at a meeting of EU leaders on Thursday and Friday as they meet and debate whether to set binding targets for carbon dioxide emission reduction and reliance on renewable energy.

The European Commission, headed by Jose Manuel Barroso - a recent convert to the economic arguments for fighting climate change - is pushing for concrete targets, fearing that vague commitments will undermine the EU's environment rhetoric.

Last week, the current head of the EU, German chancellor Angela Merkel, said the EU must demonstrate that it is possible to be both economically progressive and environmentally friendly and is set to push for ambitious targets in the summit's conclusions this week.

German daily Handelsblatt reported on Monday that Berlin wants the EU to promote big long-term cuts by industrial nations in CO2 emissions - 60 to 80 percent by 2050 - and a 30 percent cut for the EU by 2020.

But although it will make for headlines around the world if the EU sets stringent long-term goals, the devil will remain in the detail with entrenched behind-the-scenes squabbling expected as governments barter over how much of the burden they should each carry.

EU environment ministers agreed last month to a 20 percent emissions cut by 2020, but the bloc is already scrambling to meet its target of an 8 percent reduction in CO2 emissions agreed under the international Kyoto protocol.

Meanwhile, countries such as the UK, which lately has been promoting its green credentials, are also having problems.

UK daily the Guardian reports that an independent scientific audit of the country's climate change policies has predicted that Britain will fall well below its target of a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

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