EU Climate Plan in Shambles

by William Yeatman on October 21, 2008

The European Union’s climate plan is on the brink of collapse after Italian and Polish heads of state used their veto power to win the right to weaken the EU’s global warming policy.

When European leaders met this week for the quarterly European Council meetings, the EU’s pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 was on the agenda. By using their veto threat, Italy and the six east European members deleted all reference to the EU Commission’s climate strategy from the Council statement, and they also won the right to modify the strategy to make it “cost effective.”

Poland opposes the climate plan because it is dependent on coal for 95% of its electricity. Two weeks ago, the EU Parliament endorsed a plan from the EU Commission to reduce greenhouse emissions with a tough cap-and-trade scheme that would price coal out of the energy market, due to its high carbon content. Without coal, Polish officials are worried that they would have to turn to Russian natural gas. For the Poles, however, energy dependence on Russia, their former master, is unacceptable.

Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria are also coal dependent countries in eastern Europe, and they share Poland’s fear of energy dependence on Russia. That’s why these states agreed to join together to oppose the EU’s climate plan at the European Council.

Instead of energy security, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cited international competition as the reason that Italy opposed the climate plan. "I have announced my intention to exercise my veto," he said. “We do not think that now is the time to be playing the role of Don Quixote, when the big producers of CO2, such as the United States or China, are totally against adherence to our targets.”

France and Germany, two of the EU’s most powerful members, continue to disagree over whether the financial crisis should influence the EU’s climate plan. Three weeks ago in Berlin, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a conference that “the crisis changes priorities…One cannot rule out that interest in protecting the climate will change because of such a crisis.”

However, French President Nicolas Sarkozy this week told the press that “The deadline on climate change is so important that we cannot use the financial and economic crisis as a pretext for dropping it.”

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