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EU: Summit Takes On Climate Change

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> EU-member representatives are gathered in Brussels for a spring summit (official site) BRUSSELS, March 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The EU's spring summit ended in agreement on a number of joint targets to counter the effects of global warming.

The centerpiece of the new EU strategy is a pledge to unilaterally slash carbon-dioxide emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020 as measured against 1990 levels).

Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany -- which holds the EU's rotating Presidency -- said the bloc was striving for global leadership in what it considers a crucial issue:

"This is a qualitative breakthrough that will secure us the ability to innovate, and one that will render the European Union really credible in the pacesetter's position that have aspired for in the international arena," Merkel said.

Gobal Leadership

EU leaders are set to offer to raise their emission cuts to a minimum of 30 percent -- if the United States, China, India, and other industrialized nations match that pledge.

Cutting the share of fossil fuels in the EU energy mix has the added attraction of helping ease the bloc's dependence on outside suppliers and often precarious transit arrangements.

Merkel said Germany will also use its current presidency of the G8 bloc of major industrialized nations to urge other members of the group to follow suit.

However, politicians and officials in Brussels make no secret that they have no certainty on what the response will be from Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, or other major world centers. Many acknowledge a lack of response would thwart the EU's efforts, as it's share in global carbon-dioxide emissions is dwindling in any case.

One way to cut emissions is to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, or hydropower. Today, the EU's member states committed themselves to bringing the level of "renewables" in their energy mix to 20 percent by 2020. But given that many eastern European countries, together with Malta and Cyprus, complained the objective is physically impossible for them to achieve, the final outcome of the summit commits the EU to an overall target of 20 percent allowing for divergences among individual countries.

France won a small victory when it forced an acknowledgment from the summit that nuclear energy is a legitimate means of cutting carbon-dioxide output -- although it is not, properly speaking, a "renewable." While France extracts most of its energy from nuclear sources, publics in countries like Austria and Ireland vehemently reject the use of nuclear energy.

Eye On Russia

Cutting the share of fossil fuels in the EU energy mix has the added attraction of helping ease the bloc's dependence on outside suppliers and often precarious transit arrangements.

However, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told RFE/RL today that the summit's focus on relations with outside suppliers such as Russia had been at best cursory.

"I think all member states are concerned," Bildt said. "We've had those extensive discussions where we've been discussing the mandate for the negotiations with Russia, on the Energy Charter and [its] Transit Protocol, for example, but we've had those discussions, they are to a certain extent reflected in the documents here [at the summit], but I wouldn't necessarily say that they have been in the focus of the debates here."

The EU logo for renewable energy (epa)

The summit conclusions do speak of the EU's need to diversify its energy sources and transport routes. They also call for "more effective crisis response" measures -- a reflection of the concern caused by the increasingly more frequent disruptions to Russian energy deliveries.

Member states also want an "assessment of the impact of current and potential energy imports and the conditions of related networks on each member state's security of supply." This is a job for the EU's executive European Commission and is likely to take months, if not years to complete.

The summit also says the EU is looking for "closer partnerships with suppliers and transit countries." The negotiations with Russia are part of these efforts, as are attempts to craft new links with Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region.

Locking Gazprom Out

Another issue considered by the summit, which partly stems from energy-security concerns, was whether it is necessary to break up the EU's national energy monopolies. The European Commission argues such a measure would help competition -- and limit the ability of Russia's state-controlled Gazprom to penetrate further into EU markets. As the EU's largest gas provider, Gazprom is also looking to snap up delivery networks in member states.

However, there was little support among the EU's member states for the commission's proposal. A number of politicians and diplomats from the EU's new, eastern member states have told RFE/RL that breaking up energy monopolies will not be enough to keep Gazprom at bay. Their preferred option remains keeping tight national controls over their strategically vital energy sectors.

The EU leaders on March 8 also discussed the outlines of a joint declaration to mark the EU's 50th anniversary at a special ceremony in Berlin on March 24-25.

There is surprising variance in member states' views on what is especially worthy of celebrating among the EU's achievements to date.

Not all member states have a stake in all EU projects -- such as the euro, or the Schengen area, which abolished internal borders between participating countries.

Merkel noted on March 8 that further enlargement is also a highly divisive issue.

"As always there are some controversial areas, as you know, views about future enlargements vary from one member state to another, as do views on integration and enlargement," Merkel said.

Merkel also repeated her earlier promise to keep the Berlin declaration short and simple -- taking a dig at the EU's vulnerability to bureaucratic excesses, she assured her audience on March 8 that it will be cast in "nothing like the traditional language of Brussels."

Global Climate Change

View a photo gallery summarizing some key findings of the Stern report on the economic costs of global warming (epa)

THE STERN REPORT: In October, former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern issued a 700-page report on the economic impact of global warming. The report, which was commissioned by the British government, estimates that climate change could cost between 5 and 20 percent of global GDP by the end of the century....(more)


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RFE/RL's coverage of the environment.