IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Europe OKs binding low-carbon energy targets

EU leaders agreed Friday on a bold set of measures to fight global warming, pledging that a fifth of the bloc’s energy will come from green power sources such as wind turbines and solar panels by 2020 and 10 percent of European cars will run on biofuels.
These wind power turbines operate beside a nuclear power plant in Brunsbuettel, Germany. Heribert Proepper / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

EU leaders agreed Friday on a bold set of measures to fight global warming, pledging that a fifth of the bloc’s energy will come from green power sources such as wind turbines and solar panels by 2020 and 10 percent of European cars will run on biofuels.

At French insistence, the deal — which does not yet include an enforcement mechanism — noted the role atomic energy could play in replacing coal- or oil-fired power plants blamed for pumping out greenhouse gases. The inclusion caused unease for non-nuclear states such as Austria and Ireland and triggered complaints from environmental groups.

European leaders said the agreement, the first to go beyond the 35-nation Kyoto Protocol in its targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts, marked a turning point in the fight against global warming.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel challenged other nations to follow suit, saying the world still had time to “avoid what could well be a human calamity” caused by climate change.

The EU deal was a compromise between nations that had demanded mandatory targets on clean energy, and eastern European nations led by Poland and Slovakia who had said they did not have the money to meet such high targets for developing costly alternatives.

The deal makes three main promises to be obtained by over the next 13 years:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions will be cut by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels;
  • The EU will produce 20 percent of its power through renewable energy, an increase from the current figure of around 6 percent;
  • One-tenth of all cars and trucks in the 27 EU nations should be running on biofuels made from plants.

“These are a set of groundbreaking, bold, ambitious targets,” said British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “It gives Europe a clear leadership position on this crucial issue facing the world.”

Approaching U.S., others
European leaders hope their commitment to tackling climate change will encourage other leading polluters, such as the United States, Russia, China and India, to agree on deep emissions cuts.

Merkel plans to present the plans to President Bush and other leaders at a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations that she will host in June.

“We can once again say to the rest of the world, Europe is taking the lead, you should join us in fighting climate change,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. He called the deal “the most ambitious package ever agreed by any institution on energy security and climate change.”

EU lawyers still have to draw up the detailed rules specifying how the deal will be enforced, however Barroso said the legislation “will be subject to all instruments of community law.” That implies that the EU’s executive arm would be able to launch legal action at the bloc’s high court that could lead to the imposition of heavy fines on countries that violate the targets.

The EU’s environmental agenda is to be pursued in parallel with commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. treaty on climate change.

Major EU economies have committed to cut greenhouse gases by 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, and want the United States to sign the treaty. The Bush administration has rejected the Kyoto agreement, saying it would hurt the U.S. economy.

Compromise with old East bloc
Eastern European nations, which preferred to stay with cheaper, but more polluting options such as coal and oil, went along with the deal after western nations conceded that individual targets would be set for each EU member within the overall goal of 20 percent renewable energy use.

“The text changed significantly following our pressure,” said Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. “The final deal gives us lots of room for maneuver.”

Many of the former Communist nations that joined the EU in 2004 lag behind their western neighbors in developing clean fuel. Although their economies are growing fast, most are still struggling to catch up and say they need more time to meet the 20 percent target.

Cooler, landlocked countries such as Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic argued that they were handicapped in developing wind, solar and water-based power sources, which are widely used in countries such as Denmark and Spain.

The French, Czechs, Slovaks and others argued that nuclear power could play a crucial part in helping Europe move away from carbon fuels. The agreement says each EU nation should decide whether to use nuclear power, but takes note of a Commission report that says nuclear energy could contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and help alleviate worries about security of energy supply. It also stresses the need to improve nuclear safety.

Austria, Ireland and Denmark did not want the EU to sanction nuclear power, and the German government is split over whether to develop atomic energy. “