European President Says Climate Change EU's Top Priority

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 25, 2007 (ENS) - The European Union has put the inter-linked challenges of energy and climate change at the very top of its agenda, European Commission President Jose Barroso told an international audience gathered to consider European policy in preparation for the G8 Summit in Germany in June.

Held Thursday in Brussels, the public conversation with President Barroso was sponsored by the French Institute of International Relations - Institut français des relations internationales, IFRI - France's independent international relations center which conducts policy-oriented research and analysis of global political affairs.

"What we have to ask ourselves, as Europeans," said Barroso, "is where these issues are in the global agenda. Are they at the top? If not, how do we get them there?"

"I am not saying action to fight climate change is free. It has costs," the President said. "What I am saying is that the cost of action, of taking out a collective insurance policy, is small compared to the risks we face." And, he reiterated, "the longer we wait the higher the price we will have to pay."

Jose Barroso of Portugal is the 11th President of the European Commission. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
Barroso said climate change requires a "collective" response, a "grand bargain" with several key elements - the use of market mechanisms, with connections between different markets; technology, including its transfer; public investment; research and development; and trade policy.

The G8 meeting hosted by Germany at the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm June 6 through 8 is one milestone "on the way to that grand bargain," Barroso said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is eager to forge an international agreement on combating climate change at the G8 summit, despite the opposition of the United States.

She has the strong support of the European President. "We will get there – I have no doubts about that - because the facts on the ground and our publics will force the issue if we do not move ourselves ... And we have no time to waste," Barroso said.

The Barroso-led European Commission is mid-way through its five year term of office. During a mid-term assessment in April, a coalition of 10 environmental groups that the Commission "could try harder" to lead the world in addressing the challenge of climate change.

"We conclude that this Commission made a poor start, paying lip-service to or marginalizing the environment agenda," said the Green 10 Coalition which includes BirdLife International, Climate Action Network Europe, CEE Bankwatch, the European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe, the Health and Environment Alliance, Greenpeace Europe, International Friends of Nature, the European Federation for Transport and Environment, and the WWF European Policy Office.

The Coalition expressed worry that the Barroso-led European Commission "appears to lack vision on how to ensure peace and prosperity in the face of climate change and ecosystem breakdown, and how to prepare Europe for the related economic, social and environmental challenges ahead."

"Its increased attention to climate change in recent months arouses some hope," the Coalition said, "although there is still no sign of a coherent agenda to make the EU the world’s most energy and resource-efficient economy."

President Barroso said Thursday, "The EU has set down a path for the new energy and climate change agenda."

At the EU Spring Council in March, Barroso said, EU leaders agreed to over 20 energy and climate measures proposed by the European Commission.

Heads of European Union member governments pose for the camera at the 2007 Spring Council. (Photo courtesy European Union)
He summarized these measures highlighting objects such as a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency by 2020, the tripling renewable energy use to 20 percent by 2020, and investing heavily in low carbon technology.

The single energy market for the EU is "essential," said Barroso, "not just for competitiveness, but also for sustainability and security."

"Let us be perfectly clear: Europe must have a common internal position if it is to speak with one voice externally. And the single market is essential if Europe wants genuine solidarity in energy matters. Our energy security lies in integration, not isolation."

Barroso said the Commission intends to strengthen the EU’s carbon market, which already covers 50 percent of EU energy emissions and represents a market value of over 20 billion euros.

The Green 10 Coalition gave the Barroso Commission praise for "fighting to hold all EU countries to their commitments to implement the Emission Trading Scheme, a key tool to ensure the whole EU meets the Kyoto target for reduced greenhouse gas emissions."
power plant

The Craiova II coal-fired power plant in Romania, one of the newest EU member countries, is shown emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. (Photo courtesy SC Electrocentrale Bucuresti SA)
"It also got agreement on an energy policy package which, despite its weaknesses, contains important binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions and renewable energies," the Coalition said.

But the Coalition expressed concern that the Barroso Commission "may overlook negative environmental impacts arising from its climate agenda: for nature and water (biofuels), air (waste incineration), and safety (nuclear power)."

"Any support to biofuels must be accompanied by strict sustainability guarantees," the Coalition said.

"The guidelines on nuclear decommissioning funds must be made binding as part of the planned overhaul of electricity internal market law which begins in 2007," said the 10 green groups.

"The Commission must also state the need to phase out coal subsidies by 2010, when the current regime expires," they said.

"It is essential that we separate economic growth from greenhouse gas growth," Barroso said in Brussels Thursday. "I know this is possible because Europe has done it already. Since 1990 the EU economy has grown by more than a third, but our emissions have fallen."

Europe's emissions are 14 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and should decrease to 10 percent or less by 2030, Barroso said. Before 2020 developing countries will outstrip the industrialized world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Union is legally bound to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, while other industralized and rapidly developing countries are not.

Millions of vehicles across the 27 European Union countries emit greenhouse gases, like the cars and trucks in this Dutch traffic jam. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
In view of these realities, Barroso said "a global and comprehensive post-2012 agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions must be concluded," to deal with greenhouse gas emissions after the current Kyoto Protocol commitment expires in 2012.

The EU president is also attempting to gather international consensus for a global warming reduction agreement.

"We have just had summit meetings with the U.S. and Russia. And others will be held shortly with Japan and Canada. The EU must make the most of these major international encounters to promote its energy and climate strategy," he said.

Barroso promised to support the world's second most populous nation, India, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions "in an economically viable way." India and the world's largest nation, China are outside the Kyoto Protocol.

Barroso called for closer EU/China cooperation, saying that without it the EU's global climate change and energy strategy is "doomed to failure."

"We must use this year's Summit to accelerate that cooperation and specifically to set up an EU-China clean energy center in Beijing," he said.

The European Commission has proposed an EU-Africa Energy Partnership, which Barroso hopes will be formally adopted at the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon in December. It would increase investment in energy infrastructure, promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy, and capacity building in the areas of energy and climate change.

"Let us be frank," said Barroso, "those who will be hardest hit by climate change will be those who can least afford it."

The EU president pledged support for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon' plans for a major UN conference on climate change.

But before that conference takes shape, Barroso is looking forward to the UN Climate Conference in Bali in December where he hopes the moment will arrive "to launch negotiations on a global and comprehensive, post-2012 agreement."