Europe reaches climate deal but critics unsatisfied

24 October 2014
By Edd Gent
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Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel with incoming president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (right) and outgoing president Jose Manuel Barroso

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel with incoming president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (right) and outgoing president Jose Manuel Barroso

EU leaders have struck a "historic" deal to cut carbon emission by 40 per cent by 2030, but critics have warned compromises will undermine the fight against climate change.

Talks concluded in the early hours of this morning with an overall target agreed for the 28-nation bloc to cut its emissions of carbon in 2030 by at least 40 per cent from levels in the benchmark year of 1990.

The existing goal of a 20 per cent cut by 2020 has already been nearly met and EU leaders called the new target an ambitious signal to the likes of the USA and China to follow suit at a UN climate summit France is hosting in December next year.

"Europe is setting an example," French President Francois Hollande said, acknowledging that it had been a hard-won compromise but calling the final deal "very ambitious".

Political wrangling saw various states tweak the guidelines to protect varied economic interests, from coal production and nuclear plants to cross-border power lines and farmers whose livestock emit polluting methane.

Green campaigners said they were disappointed by a softening in the final agreement of targets for increasing the use of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources and for improving efficiency through measures such as insulation and cleaner engines, saying the deal signalled that the EU was becoming less ambitious.

Poland's new Prime Minister Eva Kopacz secured a complex set of financial incentives including free allowances in the EU system for trading carbon emissions to soften the impact of the target on Polish coal miners and the coal-fired power stations on which its 38 million people depend.

Concerns in Britain and some smaller states about additional EU regulation that might, for example, crimp a new expansion of emission-free but controversial nuclear power, saw targets for increased use of renewable energy and for energy efficiency softened.

Van Rompuy said the two targets would be set at least 27 per cent and would also only apply across the bloc as a whole, unlike the broad 40 per cent target that binds each state individually. Renewable energy sources currently produce about 14 per cent of the EU's energy.

UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: "This is a historic moment. Europe has sent a clear and firm message to the world that ambitious climate action is needed now.

“True to our word, we have delivered a highly ambitious EU climate target while also significantly strengthening Europe's energy security by making us less reliant on imported energy. This morning only five countries in Europe had climate targets post-2020. Now 28 countries do."

But environmentalists had already complained that the deal could still leave the EU struggling to make the at least 80 per cent cut by 2050 that its own experts say is needed to limit the rise in global average temperatures to 2°C.

Natalia Alonso of Oxfam welcomed the 40 per cent goal but said: "(It) falls far too short of what the EU needs to do to pull its weight in the fight against climate change. Insufficient action like this from the world's richest countries places yet more burden on the poorest people most affected by climate change, but least responsible for causing this crisis."

The European Union accounts for about a tenth of world greenhouse gas emissions and has generally done more than other major industrial powers to curb the gases blamed for global warming.

Some industrialists have complained that EU climate regulations risk discouraging business and investment in the bloc at a time when its faltering economy can ill afford to lose it, but others, echoed by EU officials on Friday, see changes in energy use as an opportunity to develop new industries.

The EU also took the opportunity to set out strategic objectives for "energy security" – code for reducing its heavy reliance on Russian natural gas. Davey said the deal would reduce Europe's energy import bill for fossil fuels by around £225bn by 2030.

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