Brussels, London Square Off Over Climate Emissions

BRUSSELS, Belgium, February 16, 2005 (ENS) - The European Commission has threatened to take legal action against the United Kingdom over an increase in the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions the Blair government plans to allow under the new greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme. The cap and trade system was created to meet the requirements of the Kyoto climate protocol, which becomes legally binding today.

The threat was prompted by an increase in total proposed allocations for the scheme under which companies can trade permits to emit greenhouse gases, while keeping the national quota at a level agreed with the European Union.

Each company has a cap on its emissions. If it emits less of the regulated gases, that company can sell the difference to firms that wish to exceed their caps.

Last April the UK government announced that, in total, it would emit no more than 736.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That figure was approved by the European Union in July. But the total allowances announced Monday stand at 756 million tons, an increase of nearly 20 million tons.

Barbara Helfferich, the spokesperson for Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, said the higher level of emissions would violate EU law and could force the Commission to start infringement procedures against London, which could lead to a case before the European Court of Justice.

Helfferich

Barbara Helfferich says the EU cannot permit any changes in the national emissions totals agreed in July 2004. (Photo courtesy EU)
The Blair government said discussions with the Commission are continuing as the government believes that the proposed amendment to the UK's National Allocation Plan is "compatible with the requirements" of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme legislation.

"The government continues to press the UK's case with the Commission and is taking steps to protect its legal position," the UK Department of Trade and Industry said in a joint statement with the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

The two agencies said the carbon dioxide emissions total had to be increased due to, "Revisions to UK coal and gas emission factors, reassessment of projected electricity demand, and updating of estimated impacts for measures within the UK's Climate Change Programme, including finalization of Climate Change Agreements for 2006 with industry."

Emissions by UK installations covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for the first phase (2005-7) are now estimated to be around 56 million metric tons of CO2, or 7.6 percent, higher than was the case when the National Allocation Plan (NAP) was submitted to the Commission in April 2004.

The government has proposed increasing the total number of UK allowances for this phase by less than three percent.

power plant

The Drax 4 gigawatt Power Station in North Yorkshire is Europe's largest coal-fired power station and generates one tenth of Britain's total energy demand. (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
The two agencies staked out a leadership position while increasing the total amount of emissions, saying, "The amended NAP reflects the strength of the UK's leadership on climate change, allocating allowances significantly below projected emissions and well beyond the requirements of the EU ETS Directive and our Kyoto commitment."

But the European Commission said there is no more room for revisions. "If the UK launches its emissions trading system and if the allowances that it places into the system match the allowances foreseen in the plan, we are very happy. If not, then that we consider illegal," Helfferich told reporters. "What stands is the plan from July."

But London says the UK's National Allocation Plan as submitted in July 2004 "clearly stated that the total quantity of allowances to be issued was subject to further revision in the light of ongoing work."

The disagreement is a blow to Prime Minister Tony Blair's declared leadership on climate change issues. Blair has repeatedly said that controlling climate change is to be a top priority this year while the UK holds the Chairmanship of the G8 and also the European Union Presidency from July 1, 2005.

Friends of the Earth Climate Campaigner Bryony Worthington said, "The government is wrong to continue to push the European Commission to accept a more generous cap on our emissions. The government has identified a back-up plan for if they fail to get agreement from the Commission, but they should be implementing this now. The power sector can afford to take a much tougher cap and this will help us get closer to our 20 percent carbon dioxide emissions reduction target by the end of the decade."

The UK government has confirmed that any allocation of emissions below 756 million tons would be achieved by reducing the number of allowances given to the electricity generation sector.