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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 15:53 GMT
Summit to test EU climate resolve
By Stephen Mulvey
EU reporter, BBC News

The European Union faces a test of its ability to lead the world's fight against climate change at a summit in Brussels this week.

Coal power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Germany says the EU must lead the way in tackling climate change

The leaders of the 27 states are expected to agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 - or 30% if other developed countries join in.

They will also approve an action plan designed to meet this and other tough targets, described by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso as the "most ambitious commitment ever made to tackle climate change".

But there is a strong risk that they will not be able to agree on one key proposal for a binding commitment to increase the share of renewable energy to 20% of all energy consumed by 2020.

The EU's German presidency says the summit must demonstrate to the world the EU's ambition to be the world's leader in this area.

This week, the eyes of the world will be on the European Council - from Washington, to Moscow to Beijing
Jose Manuel Barroso
European Commission President

"We are convinced that at this point if the EU does not take the lead, no-one will," says Germany's ambassador to the UK, Wolfgang Ischinger.

"This is not just a regional but a global responsibility that the EU wishes to address and take upon itself."

There is a "direct link", Mr Ischinger says, between the summit in Brussels this week and a crucial G8+5 summit in Germany later in the year, which could help to shape agreement on worldwide greenhouse gas emission reductions beyond 2012.

The EU's credibility, and the extent of its impact on the US and others, will hinge on its ability to agree binding goals, such as the proposed 20% target on renewables, he says.

In Mr Barroso's words: "This week, the eyes of the world will be on the European Council - from Washington, to Moscow to Beijing."

Burden sharing

Environmental pressure groups monitoring member states' attitudes to the renewables target say there is still a lot of opposition to accepting it as a binding commitment.

EU-25 energy consumption

Some countries are concerned about the high cost of renewable energy, while others such as France and Finland object that it takes no account of the amount of other low-carbon energy sources, such as nuclear power.

Even if there is a deal, in the end a lot of the detailed bargaining will be left until later.

The Commission is already preparing to sort out which countries have to do more, and which less, to meet the 20% greenhouse gas reduction target, and a similar burden-sharing process will have to take place with the renewables target, if it is adopted.

Other parts of the package the leaders are expected to approve include a binding target to increase the use of biofuels in transport to at least 10% by 2020, a non-binding commitment to use energy 20% more efficiently by 2020, and a series of measures to increase competition in European energy markets.

Carbon capture plan

WWF's head of climate and energy policy in Brussels, Stephan Singer, says that none of this will be easy, and that overall the EU is looking at a doubling or tripling of the effort it has made to control climate change so far.

For example, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol requires a cut of 8% in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2012. But that 8% cut over a 15-year period - which the EU may well fail to meet - now looks quite easy compared with a 12% cut over an eight-year period.

If the EU goes ahead, it will trigger a chain reaction
Stephan Singer
WWF climate policy head
WWF is disappointed by the failure to set binding targets for energy efficiency, and by the abandonment of a proposal to make carbon capture compulsory for all new fossil fuel power stations built after 2020.

Even a plan to build 12 demonstration plants with carbon capture technology has been watered down and now features in the draft conclusions as a vague plan to stimulate construction of "plants of sustainable fossil fuel technologies".

Mr Singer points out that the EU is only responsible for 12-15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so even a 30% reduction of its emissions would not make a major difference to global warming.

"On the other hand, if the EU goes ahead, it will trigger a chain reaction," he says.

"Other countries will follow the EU - Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and also very likely the incoming president of the United States, in office by the beginning of 2009."

While the EU could have been even more ambitious, he says, he applauds the decision to adopt unilateral emission reduction targets - a decision that even as recently as six months ago he would not have predicted.

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