E.U. Raises Bar in Fight Against Global Warming

E.U. leaders went beyond the 1997 Kyoto pact to set targets for cutting greenhouse gases and relying on energy sources such as wind power.
E.U. leaders went beyond the 1997 Kyoto pact to set targets for cutting greenhouse gases and relying on energy sources such as wind power. (By Heribert Proepper -- Associated Press)
By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 10, 2007

PARIS, March 9 -- European Union leaders agreed Friday to take the 27-country bloc beyond the targets of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, agreeing to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy.

During a sometimes contentious two-day meeting in Brussels, the leaders agreed to cut the gas emissions by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels in the next 13 years. They set binding targets for renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydro power, to supply 20 percent of the union's power needs and for biofuels to be used in 10 percent of the bloc's road vehicles by 2020.

European governments have been a major promoter of the Kyoto pact, which attempts to counter trends that are warming the Earth's climate. The United States and some developing countries have withheld support from the pact, saying it is likely to harm economic growth and is based on inconclusive science.

The agreement in Brussels was reached after months of negotiations within the bloc. Leaders said they hoped the aggressive measures would help persuade some of the world's biggest polluters, including the United States, China and India, to follow their lead.

"We assume leadership with this unilateral reduction," said French President Jacques Chirac. "This is part of the great moments of European history."

Warning of the possibility of a "human calamity," German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chaired the summit, said the agreement "opened the door into a whole new dimension of European cooperation in the years to come in the area of energy and combating climate change."

Some businesses here have complained that meeting the targets would be prohibitively expensive and put Europe at a competitive disadvantage with countries and regions that do not have the same restrictions. But Merkel called the targets "ambitious and credible."

While committing their countries to binding targets for reducing carbon emissions and boosting renewable energy, the leaders did not reach agreement on how those measures would be enforced.

And the 13-year targets are for the European Union as a whole; the agreement allows for "differentiated" national targets that permit "burden sharing" among the 27 nations, so that each can take different steps for its contribution to the bloc's overall goals, according to Barbara Helfferich, a spokeswoman for E.U. Environmental Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

That was a compromise after smaller, poorer and newer members in the union -- many of which are in the heavily industrialized and coal-dependent east -- complained that they did not have the resources to match the high-tech measures of the bloc's richer members, some of which have already invested heavily in wind and solar power.

The national targets will be negotiated in the months ahead by the European Commission, the bloc's executive branch, before going to the European Parliament for approval. They will be established "with due regard to a fair and adequate allocation taking account of different starting points," according to the agreement. The process could take as long as three years, E.U. officials said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon praised the deal. "The E.U.'s moves can help put the world's energy systems on more sustainable footing. They offer business strong incentives to develop the advanced technologies that the world, and above all the developing world, needs to meet its energy needs while at the same time addressing climate change," Ban's spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in New York, the Associated Press reported.

Agreeing on targets and penalties that could be levied for failing to meet them "is where most of the work still needs to be continued," said Catherine Pearce, an international climate campaigner for the environmental group Friends of the Earth. Working out the details could be very difficult, she said.

Nonetheless, she said, the agreement is "a strong step in the right direction."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company