EU claims CO2 success ahead of key climate talks
By Honor Mahony
Just days before an important global conference on setting future environment targets, the EU announced it has cut the link between economic production and rising pollution and that it will meet its own international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"We have successfully broken the link that traditionally meant that economic growth inevitably translated into higher emissions," said EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas on Tuesday (27 November).
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"Our emissions are currently 2 percent below  levels (…) while our economy has grown by more than 35 percent over the same period."
The commissioner also said that "it is almost certain" that Europe will meet its goal of cutting its carbon dioxide emissions by 8 percent by 2012 – a target agreed and shared under the Kyoto protocol by 15 EU member states in the late 1990s.
However, the commission's pronouncement on achieving the target is dependent on getting member states to toe the green line in the coming years, with national governments' holding a patchy record on the issue.
According to Mr Dimas, the EU will cut its emissions by 7.4 percent using extra measures such as buying emissions from third countries but will only be sure of meeting its 8 percent commitment if member states agree to putting other tools in place – such as including airlines in the EU's pollution reducing scheme.
Green politicians have said that the commission's announcement covers up the fact that individual member states are not doing very well on their Kyoto commitments.
"The figures presented by the Commission show that the EU is totally reliant on developing countries for emissions reductions, with the figures far from positive as regards real emissions from EU countries," said a statement by the Greens in the European parliament.
But Brussels' announcement on Thursday gives the EU some of the moral clout it needs to push other countries in the world to begin negotiations on new green targets during next week's Bali international conference on climate change.
"As things stand today, Kyoto will expire [in 2012] with nothing to follow it ... We must set a deadline to reach a new agreement by the end of 2009, to give us time to bring it into force by 2012," said Mr Dimas.
Mr Dimas also urged the US – the world's biggest polluter - to "listen and be persuaded by what science tells us."
The US has refused to ratify the 1997 Kyoto protocol and recently argued that it would not undertake meaningful environment commitments if similar measures were not applied in fast-growing economies such as China and India.
For its part the EU next week wants to push for these emerging powerhouses – which also include Brazil, Mexico and South Africa – to "limit the emissions intensity of their economic growth."
And it wants developed countries to commit to reducing emissions by 30 percent by 2020 and by 60-80 percent by 2050.
The EU recently has undertaken a series of unilateral initiatives in order to reduce its impact on the environment, which if unchecked, could see severe droughts in southern Europe and floods in northern Europe and extensive species loss across the continent.
The initiatives include reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 as well as increasing use of renewable energies to 20 percent by the same year.
But Brussels is still struggling to completely win over EU member states who fear that other regions will gain competitive advantage by having looser environment rules.
It is already looking into initiatives such as "border tax adjustments" and "sectoral agreements" to ensure that its own high energy industry is not disadvantaged by having to follow stricter green targets.