Image: Greenpeace activists
Janek Skarzynski  /  AFP-Getty Images
Greenpeace activists carry a polar bear mannequin outside the climate talks in Poznan, Poland, on Friday to express what they feel is a lack of progress. Polar bears are starting to see their sea ice habitat impacted by warming.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/12/2008 11:52:15 AM ET 2008-12-12T16:52:15

European Union negotiators said Friday they had secured the world's broadest agreement to battle climate change after paying East European nations to accept changes that will punish their heavily polluting power sectors and ramp up electricity prices.

The historic deal to cut carbon dioxide by a fifth by 2020 was secured despite an economic crisis by allowing a myriad of exemptions for industry, sparking criticism from environmental groups.

"This is a flagship EU policy with no captain, a mutinous crew and several gaping holes in it," said Sanjeev Kumar of environment pressure group WWF.

The plan increased the amount of emissions Europeans may offset by sponsoring green projects in developing countries. Armed with that opt-out, the WWF said Europe's actual emissions reductions would be a mere 4 percent, not the 20 percent the EU claims.

But French President Nicolas Sarkozy rejected that view, saying: "This is quite historic."

"You will not find another continent in this world that has given itself such binding rules as we have just adopted," he added.

The heart of the EU agreement is a system — starting in 2013 — of auctioning industrial emission permits that are now issued free of charge. Major polluters will eventually pay $66.1 billion a year for this permission to pollute. Governments will use that income for clean energy development.

But critics say loopholes allow some industries, especially in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, to get largely off the hook, with no incentive to embrace green technologies.

Jos Cozijnsen, a carbon-trading expert for the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, calculated Europe would meet half its 20 percent goal by cutting emissions, and half by buying credits. "That's not bad," he said. "It's expensive to do everything domestically."

Gore speaks at Poznan
The talks in Brussels paralleled global negotiations in Poznan, Poland, to set a work schedule for a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol by December 2009.

Al Gore urged delegates at the global talks to not slow down over the next year.

"We cannot negotiate with the facts, we cannot negotiate with the truth about our situation, we cannot negotiate with the consequences of unrestrained dumping of 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet every 24 hours," the Nobel peace prize winner and former U.S. vice president said in a speech.

Negotiators on Friday freed up millions of dollars to help poor countries adapt to increasingly severe droughts, floods and other effects of global warming.

But environmentalists complained that Poznan was hamstrung by delays and low ambitions. The conference "could have been much more robust," said Gustavo Silva-Chavez, of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Low expectations at Poznan
Organizers insisted that the goal was not to draft a replacement for Kyoto, which expires in 2012, but only to work out what would need to be done by December 2009 to draft a new treaty.

The funding decision in the final hours of the two-week conference could begin to release some $60 million within months.

"This is an important step," said delegate Mozaharul Alam of Bangladesh.

Alam said ministers and senior delegates from dozens of countries decided to give a blocked fund's governing board the authority to directly disburse money to developing countries to finance projects ranging from sea walls and improved water systems to training in new agricultural techniques.

Until now, the U.N.-backed Adaptation Fund board could not operate because its board had no right to approve and sign those contracts.

The fund is derived from a 2 percent levy on offset investments that industrial nations make on green projects in the developing world. The negotiators have been discussing other ways to ramp up the fund into the billions.

The Poznan conference marks the midway point in a two-year negotiating process begun last year in Bali, Indonesia, to reach a new treaty in December 2009.

Ministers and top officials from 145 countries concluded in a round table discussion late Thursday that the negotiations over the next year should produce an ambitious agreement that can be ratified by all countries.

Still, progress has been slowed as negotiators wait for the new and more climate-friendly government of President-elect Barack Obama to take over from the outgoing Bush administration.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who is in line for chairmanship of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, said a new draft treaty should be possible even if the U.S. does not impose mandatory limits on greenhouse gases before the next pivotal climate conference.

"I think Copenhagen should produce a treaty fundamentally geared to reductions of emissions," Kerry said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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