(AFP) – Oct 14, 2008
BRUSSELS (AFP) — EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso urged European leaders on Tuesday, the eve of an EU summit, not to use the financial crisis as an excuse to downgrade their commitments to tackling climate change.
"This is not a luxury we now have to forego," in economically troubled times, Barroso told reporters in Brussels.
"Climate change does not disappear because of the financial crisis. Tackling climate change is central to Europe's future prosperity and to preserve the quality of life on our planet," he said.
Barroso added that it was "only natural that governments become more defensive, more prudent," and reactive to pressures from "specific economic sectors".
"But we are asking them not to forget the big picture. We adopted targets unanimously."
Last year the European Union adopted the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent in 2020 from 1990 levels.
Included in that package was an engagement to bring renewable energy sources up to 20 percent of the total and to make 20 percent energy savings.
While stressing that it is important to reassure industry that it "will not be disadvantaged when facing international competitors without low-carbon disciplines," Barroso said the overall goals should not be watered down.
He said the EU should not be flexible in the objectives but it would be possible to show flexibility on how they are reached.
However French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a clear call for the economic context to be taken into account.
"We must progress in a decisive manner towards the goal of adopting a climate-energy package before the end of the year, taking into account the current economic difficulties," he said in a letter to his fellow European leaders Tuesday.
Many member states are becoming increasingly concerned at the costs involved and the consequences to industry of the climate change goals.
"The world has changed since the European Commission presented the climate change package in January, with the financial instability and the price rise of raw materials," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Monday during a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.
"No one in Italy is trying to stop the path towards reducing CO2 emissions but one can't ignore the costs. If you put the European measures in place it would cost 1.14 percent of GDP for Italy alone," he argued.
"For this reason we need to properly evaluate the impact on the real economy."
No final decision on the package is expected at the EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday but the European Commission hopes to seal the deal in December.
A European diplomat in Brussels said that while the overall goals had not been challenged there would need to be some concessions to eastern European countries which will find it harder to make the emissions cuts, especially those which currently rely heavily on coal-fired power stations.
For example Poland, reliant on coal-fired power plants for 96 percent of its electricity, is calling on Brussels to increase its carbon dioxide emissions cap for its coal-reliant energy utilities.
It also wants a more gradual introduction of planned auctioned emissions quotas in order to ease the cost burden.
The EU's original proposal foresees full CO2 emission quota auctions to begin in 2013 but European heads of industry are already calling for exemptions for their sectors.
The French EU presidency took note of the concerns at least in part in redrafted conclusions for the summit, speaking of finding "appropriate solutions" for all sectors of the European economy, as well as for member states.
The old version mentioned only special consideration for industry.
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