EU Debating Internally Its Carbon Emission Pledges

This article in Bloomberg News explores the divide among EU member countries when setting the bloc’s overall commitments under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, as well as those it will agree to in the KP’s successor agreement due to be signed in Paris in 2015.  A draft plan due to be released tomorrow by the European Commission (EC) seeks to commit the EU’s 28 member countries to reducing carbon emissions by 35 – 40% by 2030.  (Currently the EU has pledged a 21% cut by 2020 over 2005 levels.)

Polish coal fired utilityThis plan’s ambitions pose internal political challenges.  Retail power prices have spiked 65% from 2004 to 2011,while natural gas prices have risen by 42%.  In comparison, inflation has been 18% during that same time period.  Some EU members, like Germany, France, Italy, and the U.K., support the 40% target while countries like Poland, which derives almost all of its electricity from coal, opposes it.  Likewise, there is disagreement on how to balance the policy goals of overall reduction targets with renewable energy targets.  Four years ago, when making the 2020 pledge, the EU also aimed to have 20% of energy consumption by 2020 come from renewables. Germany, France, Ireland, Denmark, and Belgium continue to support having a separate renewables target, while the U.K. opposes it.  Internal politics is key to the EU’s next climate policy steps:  the European Parliament is due for elections in May and the EC, in October.

In the larger picture also looms external political concerns.  “What we must do is to keep climate policy, but we have to put at the same level cost competitiveness for energy and security of supply,” said the president of BusinessEurope, a Brussels-based group that represents companies from 35 European countries. “If we go for 40 percent unilaterally this would be absolutely against industrial competitiveness of Europe. The goal has to be realistic.”danish wind turbine

Reconciling the internal and external political concerns is not only key to the EU setting its internal climate policy, but also critical for the UNFCCC negotiations: the EU has the biggest emissions trading system (covering some 12,000 utilities and manufacturers) and the most advanced limits on carbon emissions (covering industrial sectors outside the ETS).  Consequently it is a leader both in setting ambition and devising the mechanisms for achieving sustainable development for developed countries.