Europe to Cut Greenhouse Gases 20 Percent by 2020

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 8, 2007 (ENS) - Late today, the 27 European Union member governments approved a new target to cut their collective greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from the 1990 level in 2020. The agreement was reached at the Spring Council meeting of EU heads of government.

The continent of Europe currently generates 15 percent of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.

"After the broad-ranging debate, we reached an agreement about the general reduction objective," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government currently holds the EU presidency.


President of the EU Council German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls the Spring Council to order. (Photo courtesy German Presidency)
The new target was recommended in January by the European Commission, the bloc's executive branch.

If other non-EU states are prepared to collaborate, a target of 30 percent will be considered, Chancellor Merkel said.

Merkel stressed the importance of applying the same standards to everyone when targets are being set, and that the EU must motivate other countries to follow suit. "Europe will not be able to tackle the problem on its own," she said.

Any reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is ambitious, Merkel said. The Kyoto Protocol demands that the European Union cut CO2 emissions by eight percent between 1990 and 2012, over a period of 22 years.

The climate protection goal adopted tonight would require the EU to cut emissions by a further 12 percent between 2012 and 2020, within only eight years.

By the beginning of 2007, the EU had managed to achieve 1.2 percent of the eight percent reduction agreed under the Kyoto Protocol.

The European economy needs predictable and reliable climate protection targets. Without them, said Merkel, businesses would not able to start investing in new technologies.

Chancellor Merkel said, "We have to start re-thinking things, we have to start thinking differently."

power plant

The Neurath power plant in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen burns brown coal. In 1964 it was the largest power plant in the world. (Photo courtesy RWE AG)
Before the EU’s Spring Council, the Chancellor met with European social partners and Commission President José Manuel Barroso for the traditional Social Summit.

President of the Confederation of European Business, Ernest-Antoine Seillière, stressed that new climate protection regulations must not endanger the international competitiveness of companies.

The Chancellor, who is currently also President of the EU Council, conceded that binding climate protection targets could represent a risk for jobs in Europe but she stressed that, at the same time, new technologies offered the chance of new jobs.

For example, she cited a traditional metal-processing plant in Magdeburg, Germany, which had switched to producing wind turbines and now enjoys new-found prosperity.

On the agenda during discussions with employer and employee representatives was the question of whether or not a binding target should be set for the share of renewable energy in energy supplies as a whole.

There are still differences of opinion between the EU's Heads of State and Government on this issue.

Environmental groups BirdLife International, the European Environmental Bureau, and Transport & Environment, are appealing to the Spring Council meeting to reject a proposed mandatory biofuel target.

The three NGOs believe that the heads of government should instead adopt the recently proposed lifecycle greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for transport fuel, which would differentiate between biofuels according to their environmental performance and would only support the best performing ones.

Despite repeated and consistent warnings about the potential a mandatory biofuels target has to harm the environment, in January the European Commission proposed a 10 percent mandatory target for biofuels as part of its energy package. This means that one-tenth of fuel used in the EU must be produced from plant material.

The package recently received support from the Energy and Environment Councils.


Oil palm plantation in Malaysia. Native forests are cleared for these plantations, threatening the survival of forest dependent species. (Photo courtesy Nippon Photography Institute)
To illustrate the threat of unconditional public support for biofuels, the NGOs cite the example of biofuels-driven projects which risk creating vast plantations by clearing tracts of tropical rainforest. Recent controversies have surrounded this kind of project in Indonesia and elsewhere.

"We call for a strong response from the European Council to the challenge of fighting climate change," said John Hontelez of EEB.

"The EU should set itself a binding target of 30 percent greenhouse gas reductions by 2020, compared with 1990. And it should also set ambitious binding targets for the introduction of renewables," Hontelez said.

"But we don't want this to include a target for biofuels that will result in major environmental and social problems. We should focus much more on energy efficiency and truly sustainable renewables, such as wind and solar power. The transport sector in particular should invest in energy efficiency and cleaner mobility alternatives," he said.

"Europe's approach to alternative fuel sources like biofuels has been to promote them regardless of whether or not they're good for the environment", said Jos Dings of T&E. "EU leaders should scrap the biofuel target and instead go for the lifecycle greenhouse gas approach the Commission has proposed in its January review of the Fuel Quality Directive."

"This approach requires fuel suppliers actually to improve their climate performance, rather than just blending in a product with uncertain environmental consequences," said Dings.

Ariel Brunner of BirdLife International said, "As an absolute minimum, we urge Europe's political leaders at the Spring Council strongly to support mandatory certification of biofuels, covering, beyond greenhouse gas balance, also their other environmental impacts such as on biodiversity and freshwater supplies."

Merkel said that the question of how much to spend on climate protection would have to be weighed carefully. In her view, it is either a question of high costs being incurred by a higher frequency of climate-related incidents, or a question of investing money instead in a reliable framework to prevent such damage.

Merkel argued for a cost-efficient solution which would be in the interests of future generations.