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Industrialised countries must jointly take the lead

The economic benefits from adopting CO2 reduction targets are as great, or nearly as great, as the economic penalties, so a win-win situation is within reach, says the European Union's environment commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard. Speaking at a conference on climate change in Brussels last month, she was pessimistic about securing US and Japanese agreement to the EU's target for reducing emissions of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide by 15%.

The European Union's environment commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard, was pessimistic last month about securing US and Japanese agreement to the EU's target for reducing emissions of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide by 15%. Speaking at a conference on climate change in Brussels (previous story) she reiterated arguments, however, that a 15% reduction in 1990 emission levels by 2010 had "win-win" possibilities and would have minimal impact on European economic growth.

Having just returned from Washington, she reported that the EU and US "do not see eye to eye on target reductions, on emission trading or the involvement of developing countries," adding that "it will by no means be easy to find common ground with the US but we owe it to the world to give it a serious try."

The US wants to stabilise emission levels at the 1990 rate by 2012, while Japan's proposed 5% reduction target for 2010 is "so hedged with escape clauses that the overall effect would be a paltry 2.5% reduction," she claimed. The EU differs from the US and Japan not only in seeking real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but in its insistence that industrialised countries must take the lead in implementing reduction programmes. "The EU is clear that progress in this area must wait until actions by the industrialised countries are proven," said Bjerregaard.

US demands that developing countries also be made party to the agreement, she said, "risk rupturing the negotiations" and reneges on US's Rio and Berlin commitments. Bjerregaard also decried US plans to "allow an undefined amount of emissions trading on soft conditions," which "could mean that US emissions would continue to grow or remain the same for another 20 years, well above the already high 1990 levels."

In an outspoken attempt to rouse support, she continued: "If we are to achieve an ambitious result in Kyoto . . . it will be the European Union that once again will have to take the lead. But we cannot do it on our own. We need the commitment of the other industrialised countries and the support of the developing countries if we are to secure the globe's future."

Renewables vital

Elaborating on the rationale of the EU proposal, she emphasised the importance of the "bubble concept" under which different parties agree jointly to fulfil the same total target. The possibility of trading power across frontiers in a liberalised energy market makes joint responsibility imperative, she said.

Along with the reduction of emissions from passenger cars and increased thermal efficiency in power plants, the development of renewables forms a key component of the EU strategy for achieving its target. Currently providing 6% of the EU energy supply, the Commission believes this can be increased to 12% in 2010, primarily through increased use of biomass, wind energy, solar and small hydropower plants. The scope for improvement in the US is even greater she claimed: "If the USA were to double its present 5 to 6% share of renewables by 2010, it could save over 350 million tonnes of CO2."

Considering the likely cost of the EU programme in terms of economic growth, she pointed to the Commission's internal Communication on Climate Change, released October 1, which "shows clearly that we can reach our emission reduction objectives without damaging our economy." A 15% emission reduction by 2010 could have a positive impact on GDP of close to 1% or a negative impact of 1.5%, added Bjerregaard. In a worse case scenario, "a permanent loss of 1.5% GDP means a six month delay in reaching any particular level of standard of living that would be reached in the ordinary course of events."

Looking ahead to the Kyoto negotiations, she said "the EU is ready to consider flexibility measures such as emission trading and joint implementation only if there are strong commitments on targets." These had to be related to domestic efforts. "I am going to Kyoto to get results," she promised. "The EU will fight every inch of the way. In Rio we said we must act, in Berlin we said we must act. In Kyoto I hope we will."

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