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EU Progress On Kyoto Targets

EU progress on Kyoto targets is mostly hot air

Valdis Dombrovskis – Updated on May 26, 2008 – SCMP

With each passing year, the impending crisis of global warming looms closer and closer. Time is running out for preventative action. The European Union’s “20-20-20” mantra aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent, relative to their level in 1990, and to increase the share of renewable resources to 20 per cent by the year 2020. Is it really viable?

The EU seemingly has a long-term record of championing action to prevent climate change. In 1994, it committed itself to the greenhouse gas reductions set forth by the Kyoto Protocol, and ratified it in 2002. The 15 members promised an 8 per cent reduction in emissions by 2010.

Every industrial nation that has not ratified Kyoto, first and foremost the United States, has been criticised for being “environmentally irresponsible”. But, in the period between 1990 and 2005, the EU-15 managed to reduce emissions by only 2 per cent, and it is now obvious that they will not fulfil the Kyoto commitment. Only five of the EU-15 are on track to meet their targets. The EU-15 could, under the best circumstances, reduce emissions by 4.6 per cent by 2010.

This failure does not come as a big surprise. What is surprising is that the EU-15 have managed to market their failure as a success.

When the 20-20-20 commitment was adopted in March last year, the decision was much trumpeted and sold to the public as another success for EU climate change policy.

However, when it came to sharing the burden of emissions reduction among EU member states, the European Commission proposed in January to change the base year from 1990 to 2005. This approach – endorsed as a basis for negotiation in the recent EU council – amounted to allowing some member states not to fulfil their supposedly binding Kyoto burden-sharing targets.

The reason was simple: the EU-12 – the new members admitted in 2004 – have been outperforming the EU-15. The new members have not agreed to a collective Kyoto goal but, as a group, they are projected to reduce emissions relative to 1990 by around 20 per cent by 2010.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have, for example, managed to more than halve their 1990 emissions by 2005. This can partly be attributed to the collapse of heavily polluting Soviet-style industry. But, in changing the base year for absolute emission levels from 1990 to 2005, the commission also seems to be trying to cover up the EU-15’s failure while pushing excessively large reduction targets onto the EU member states that are already the most environmentally efficient.

By sacrificing the needs of growing economies that have met their goals to those of more mature markets, the commission is rewarding inefficiency and reducing the effectiveness of the EU’s climate change policy and its common market. With the EU-15 comprising 80 per cent of all union greenhouse gas emissions, these countries should take a leading role in its climate change policy. It is time they stepped up their efforts.

Valdis Dombrovskis is a member of the European Parliament from Lithuania. Copyright: Project Syndicate

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