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National reduction targets agreed

Last month each of the 15 member states of the European Union signed up to a national share of the European greenhouse gas emissions "bubble" agreed at Kyoto. The bubble commits the EU to an 8% reduction in a basket of six gases from 1990 levels by 2010. Last minute manoeuvring, however, won a relaxation in most EU member states' commitments.

Europe continues to lead the way on greenhouse gas emissions. Last month each of the 15 member states of the EU signed up to a national share of the European "bubble" agreed at Kyoto. The bubble commits the EU to an 8% reduction in a basket of six gases from 1990 levels by 2010. Last minute manoeuvring, however, won a relaxation in most EU member states' commitments. Eight countries emerged from the meeting with lower commitments than the presidency had proposed. All other countries accepted the proposals, with the exception of Sweden, which agreed to a lower limit (chart).

Despite the manoeuvring, the British presidency -- spearheaded by a determined environment minister, Michael Meacher -- maintains that Europe is still on track to meet its overall target. The UK's deputy Prime Minister John Prescott claims the draft agreement is an enormous achievement and one of the key successes of the British presidency.

The agreement is also hailed as major opportunity by the European Wind Energy Association's Christophe Bourillon. "It's now up to the wind industry in each country to roll up its sleeves and get to work, to talk to their governments about the role wind can play," he says.

The burden sharing deal allows the poorer EU countries to increase greenhouse gas emissions to allow for growth, while the richer countries will compensate by reducing emissions beyond the 8% figure. The deal represents a fair share for all member states, maintains Prescott. "It is now up to each country to produce a national plan for implementation."

Friends of the Earth (FOE) is not impressed. "This deal is the product of a major row between EU nations, most of whom have fought hard to avoid any radical green commitments," says FOE's Patrick Green, pointing out that the EU's original negotiating position prior to Kyoto was a 15% reduction. He concedes, though, that reaching any agreement on burden sharing was a coup. Even with an 8% target, tough action to reform energy and transport policy as well as the Common Agricultural Policy is needed, warns Green.

Indeed it was these actions for reform -- and not the percentages -- that were the real bone of contention for the ministers, confides a presidency source. Hours of talks during a marathon session June 16-17 concentrated on whether the targets should be tied to proposals for pan-European legislation, with the Danes and Dutch pushing hardest. Without such legislation, the tougher fiscal measures adopted by "greener" countries would put them at an economic disadvantage, they argued.

Eventually the fifteen settled against making the targets conditional on pan-European measures, such as a carbon tax. Instead, in a strongly worded conclusion, ministers confirmed that "early and substantial progress on effective common and co-ordinated policies and measures" was essential for reaching commitments. The conclusion includes recommendations for action by the Commission, including the reduction or removal of all subsidies and tax advantages to fossil fuels and more emphasis on renewable energy R&D and its dissemination to third countries. It also targets road and air transport for action and recommends incentives for energy efficiency.

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