Environmental groups have accused the UK government of putting pressure on the European Commission to slow down climate change mitigation efforts as the new EU climate measures are about to be published.
Some green groups, including Greenpeace, have expressed concerns that the UK’s lobbying could prevent the European Commission (EC) from setting new targets for cleaning up transport fuels used in the EU and open the door for imports of polluting tar sands from Canada.
The current directive governing the use of transport fuels in the EU requires a 6 per cent cut in transport-fuel-related emissions by 2020 with some pushing for the tar sands to be classed as more polluting than conventional oil, thus effectively blocking its import to EU countries.
The UK argued against setting new targets for cutting emissions from transport fuels under the fuel quality directive after 2020 and is opposing the 2030 renewables targets, saying it would stop countries using the most cost-effective ways of cutting emissions, those being nuclear and other non-renewable technologies that might involve carbon removal.
The UK stance is supported by representatives of the European industry, including BASF, Dow or Arcelor Mittal, who have called for a ‘single realistic target’, saying the overly tough restrictions will drive business out of Europe. “The high cost of non-competitive technologies to decarbonise the power sector cannot be borne by our companies in addition to already uncompetitive energy prices," heads of industry said in a letter to the Commission this month.
The environmental groups disagree. "The weak, non-binding target on renewables the UK government has lobbied for would be nothing short of a stab in the back for the clean energy sector,” said Greenpeace executive director John Sauven. "Only a binding target will give investors the clear signal they've been waiting for, helping drive down the costs of renewable energy, creating more green jobs, and giving a boost to the UK economy."
It is expected the European Commission will propose cutting CO2 emission by 40 per cent from the 1990 levels by 2030, still a more ambitious goal than those of all other industrialised regions around the world.
Recently, EU’s biggest trading partners including the United States, Japan and Canada, have scaled back their climate commitments.
The Commission is also expected to publish recommendations for developing shale gas projects in EU member states.
As the US energy market is thriving thanks to the growing shale gas exploration, Europe will most likely want to avoid putting obstacles in the way of its own shale exploration.
Germany, which has been investing heavily into renewable energy, opposes the attempts to water down the emission reduction efforts and calls for tough targets not just for overall CO2 levels, but for renewables in each member state
German industry finds itself pulled two ways. Many of its companies are involved in the solar and wind sectors, but it also has major utility companies, which would prefer a single target on cutting emissions.
Europe's emissions-cutting goal will form the basis for the EU's negotiating position at UN climate talks, which have a 2015 deadline for agreeing a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the current global pact to combat climate change.
Wednesday's Commission announcement will be followed by debate at EU summits in March and June and a draft law, probably early next year.