Lots of work to do to curb sustained climate-change

Jul 14, 1997 02:00 AM

June 25, 1997 Despite European Union criticisms of United States failure to combat climate change, the 15 nation bloc's own policymakers are pulling in different directions on the same issue -- and threatening the EU's environmental objectives. "On the one hand, the EU's Environmental Council is working to set greenhouse gas emission targets for 2005 to reverse climate change," says Greenpeace climate campaign spokeswoman Kirsty Hamilton. "On the other, the EU's energy council follows policies that have the completely opposite effects, and it has failed to develop the necessary policies for the EU to meet its reduction targets."
The Earth Summit recently began with European attacks on the U.S. for not doing enough to combat climate change and Third World condemnation of broken promises by rich nations. The meeting, attended by 173 countries, is reviewing progress made since the first Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.
"We as a species, are teetering on the edge, living unsustainably and perpetuating inequity, and may soon pass the point of no return," warned UN General Assembly president Razali Ismail of Malaysia. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "No country can opt out of global warming or fence in its own private climate," he said.
Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands pressed U.S. President Clinton at the Denver summit of the Group of Seven industrial states to set targets for cutting greenhouse gases. The pressure continued on the first day of the New York summit. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said the industrial countries "should accept the agreed position of the European Union." The EU wants the U.S., which produces nearly a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, to accept its targets of a 15 % reduction in greenhouse gases by the year 2010.
In 1992 at Rio, the world agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions with the signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The process continued with sessions in Berlin, and Geneva. A third session will be held in Kyoto, Japan, in December to set legally binding targets leading to "significant overall reductions" of emissions. The Clinton administration has promised "clear and realistic" targets in time for Kyoto, but has not said what they would be.
Efforts to agree on targets ahead of the meeting have foundered in negotiations held by the ad hoc group on the Berlin mandate (AGBM). At an AGBM meeting in Bonn last March, the EU surprised the rest of the world by proposing a cut by 15 % from 1990 levels by the year 2010. This provoked the U.S. and Japan to accuse the EU of trying to set itself a target for the EU as a whole, rather than for individual states. They suspect the EU is hatching a plan to trade emission targets between union members.
By balancing figures from countries making progress on cuts, like Germany and Britain, against those making slower progress, like France and Spain, an overall EU-wide goal would protect those states putting growth ahead of the environment. Japan and the United States, as single nations, would have less flexibility.
In the past, the EU was strongly criticised for setting separate national targets for its 15 member states, depending on their level of industrialisation. Southern European countries, such as Portugal, say they need more time to industrialise, which will necessarily entail more emissions in the future. As a result Portugal has been allowed emissions of 40 % above its 1990 level, whereas Luxembourg has been given a target 30 % below its 1990 level. The EU average is currently 10 % below the 1990 level but this will be increased to 15 %.
Ute Collier, of Friends of the Earth (FoE), says the EU's Structural Funds, which account for a quarter of EU budget, have allowed some richer European countries to claim lower emissions by setting up renewable energy projects in Spain, Greece, and Portugal.
Considering the failure of the process so far, Greenpeace doubts that these targets will be met, whether or not they are agreed by the rest of the world. "If the EU continues business as usual, emissions will be above 1990 levels by the year 2000," the group said in a statement.
A 20 % CO2 reduction target by the year 2005 has been demanded by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which includes 38 states most vulnerable to the rise in sea level and increased storm severity that would result from significant climate change. Greenpeace complains that industry lobby groups backing the fossil fuel industry are pushing to prevent governments from taking swift action to cut CO2 emissions at Kyoto. "A particular target of this lobby is to publicise the alleged economic costs to developing countries of CO2 reducing policies implemented in industrialised nations," says Greenpeace. "This is an effort to counter developing countries calls for the rich to honour their commitments under the (UNFCCC) Convention and act first."
Friends of the Earth Europe has called for EU research and development (R&D) funds to be transferred from nuclear power to renewable energy sources. "Restructuring of the breakdown between nuclear and non-nuclear R&D funding is urgently needed," says FoE Europe's John Green.
Greenpeace claims that 88 % of specific EU energy development subsidies go on fossil fuels (mainly oil and coal) and nuclear energy, and only 12 % to solar renewable sources of energy, such as solar electricity and wind power. "Both the EU and its member states continue to hand out massive subsidies to the old climate-destroying fossil fuel technologies of coal and oil, but grossly under-resource renewable energy efficiency programs," says Greenpeace EU spokesperson Aphrodite Morelatou. "It is time to start funding the solution, not the problem." A Greenpeace commissioned report from the Vrije University of Amsterdam compares EU and state support for fossil fuels, and nuclear and renewable energy in 17 European countries. It claims that governments have spent over $ 60 billion on the fossil fuels industry since 1992.

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