EU sets sights on extending current climate deal at Cancun
European environment ministers have agreed a list of priorities for the upcoming UN conference on biodiversity, with the bloc's strategy for crucial climate change talks later this year increasingly shifting towards the issue of an extension of the existing Kyoto Protocol, long a bone of contention between rich and poor countries.
The gathering in Luxembourg on Thursday (14 October) confirmed the EU headline target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020 and restoring the ecosystem in so far as feasible, while stepping up the bloc's contribution to avert global biodiversity loss.
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But Europe will not provide new money to other countries in this area at the moment, warned Flemish minister for environment Joke Schauvliege, ahead of the biodiversity talks in Nagoya, Japan, later this month (18-29 October).
"We have the economic situation, so we decided that we are not really able to put new money on the table in Nagoya," Ms Schauvliege said after the meeting which she chaired.
The ministers indicated that Europe would push for an extension to the current multilateral treaty on reducing greenhouse gases - the Kyoto Protocol - at crucial UN climate change talks which start in Cancun, Mexico, next month.
Under Kyoto, a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in 1997, industrialised countries committed themselves to reductions in greenhouse gases. The EU and other rich countries have been opposed to a second commitment period after the current period ends in 2012 as they want emerging economies to agree to binding reductions before they pledge to make further reductions themselves.
Poor countries have robustly defended Kyoto, due to the language contained in it of "common but differentiated responsibility," understood by developing nations to mean that those countries that caused the problem should pay for solving it and make binding commitments to CO2 reductions.
The battle over the Kyoto Protocol has hamstrung climate negotiations for two years.
"The EU has no problem with the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol," said Ms Schauvliege and Connie Hedegaard, EU climate action commissioner, in a joint statement.
However, in backing the protocol, the bloc seeks to unwind the principle of 'common but undifferentiated responsibilities.'
"But we would not do it without conditions. All major economies will have to commit themselves, and areas where the present Kyoto Protocol lacks environmental integrity need to be addressed," they added.
Discussions also took place on whether Europe should make a unilateral decision to cut emissions by 30 percent on 1990 levels over the next decade, with the debate set to be taken up again next year. Europe has currently committed to a 20 percent cut.
The other main topic on the environment ministers' agenda - how to regulate the production of GMOs inside the 27-member union - produced little agreement.
A controversial commission proposal - that would return the ultimate decision on whether to ban or approve the production of certain GM crops to national governments - found little favour, with Germany and France among its opponents.
"Let me be very clear, in France we refuse even to enter into this discussion," said the country's secretary of state for ecology, Chantal Jouanno, indicating that the plan failed to deliver adequate impact assessments of GM agriculture on the environment, on human health, or on other socio-economic needs.
The commission's position has been further complicated by the signing of a petition by over one million European citizens - a new procedure under the Lisbon Treaty - demanding a moratorium on GM crops.
EU health commissioner John Dalli said the commission could not ignore the document, but stressed that the mechanics of the EU citizens initiative procedure had "not yet been decided on by the European parliament."