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'Low-carbon economy' proposed for Europe

The European Union on Wednesday announced a plan to tackle the EU’s growing dependence on oil and gas imports and the rise in global temperatures.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The European Union on Wednesday announced a plan to tackle the EU’s growing dependence on oil and gas imports and the rise in global temperatures.

The European Commission also said the EU must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to limit global warming and prevent serious damage caused by climate change.

Europe must embrace a “low-carbon economy,” EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Wednesday.

Surging world demand for limited stocks of oil and gas is likely to send prices — and the EU’s energy import costs — spiraling in future decades. To avoid future energy crunches, the head of the EU’s executive arm said Europe must look at available alternatives, using more renewable energy.

“Europe must lead the world into a new ... postindustrial revolution, the development of a low-carbon economy,” he said. “We need new policies to face a new reality,” he said.

The ambitious package reflects a renewed sense of purpose evident in the EU during the past year, after a period of disarray caused by the rejection of the bloc’s proposed constitution by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Barroso said he hoped EU leaders would approve the plan at their summit in March. “As soon as we have the endorsement, we will act swiftly,” he said.

Biggest energy importer
Currently, the EU is the world’s largest importer of oil and gas. It buys 82 percent of its oil and 57 percent of its gas from third-party states. This is projected to rise to 93 percent of its oil and 84 percent of its gas over the next quarter-century.

Russia is a large supplier, but concerns about the reliability of those supplies were underscored this week when shipments of Russian oil via a pipeline running through Belarus were disrupted by a trade dispute between the two former Soviet republics.

“We consider it unacceptable, this kind of event,” Barroso said. “We will make this very clear to our Russian and other partners.”

He would not comment on reports that Russia and Belarus had resolved their dispute, saying the EU’s energy chief Andris Piebalgs would meet with a Russian official later Wednesday.

Europe must “actively develop a common external energy policy and speak with one voice to third countries,” Barroso said.

Piebalgs told reporters that 20 percent of all EU energy should come from renewable power by 2020 and 10 percent of vehicle fuel from biofuels.

The EU wants to set binding targets for the first time, he said, suggesting a massive boost in low-carbon, homegrown power such as wind and solar energy to cut reliance of imported fossil fuels.

Piebalgs said the EU should aim to draw 10 percent of vehicle fuel from biofuels such as ethanol, trying to bite into growing demand for imported oil.

Politics of nuclear power
But addressing the contentious issue of nuclear energy, Barroso said the EU’s executive arm would respect the right of individual member nations to decide whether they wanted to develop it or not.

“It’s not up to us to tell the member states whether in their energy mix they should have more or less nuclear or none at all,” he said. “What is important is to make progress toward an economy that is less dependent on carbon.”

Presenting its new energy strategy, the EU’s executive arm said global cuts of 30 percent will help ensure temperatures rise no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This target is “both technically feasible and economically affordable” if action is taken quickly, it said, calling for other regions to move as well.

“As an essential step toward this long-term reduction, the group of developed countries should cut their emissions to an average of 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 under a new global climate change agreement,” the Commission said.

The EU energy strategy will be debated by environment ministers of the bloc’s 27 nations on Feb. 20 in Brussels. Climate change is at the center of the new policy, which calls for the end of dependence on oil and gas and the increases use of renewable sources, such as wind power and biofuels.