Page last updated at 19:10 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 20:10 UK

Nations challenge EU climate plan

Coal power station chimney
Some of the countries are heavily reliant on coal-fired power stations

Eight eastern and central European countries have challenged the EU's climate change package, which France wants to get adopted before next year.

The eight EU members want CO2 emission targets revised in light of "serious economic and financial uncertainties".

Later Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi said he would veto the plan, saying Italian businesses could not absorb the cost.

EU members have been discussing the package at a Brussels summit, which has been dominated by the financial crisis.

The eight countries challenging the plan are Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Reducing greenhouse gases has been achieved at "a very high social and economic cost", they say.

The former communist states argue that "the vast majority" of the EU's CO2 reductions have been achieved by "less affluent member states", which shut many heavily polluting old industrial plants in the 1990s.

They object to the European Commission taking 2005 as the baseline year for setting new emissions targets, rather than 1990 - the baseline year taken in the international Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Anxiety over cost

Mr Berlusconi also opposed the plan.

"Our businesses are in absolutely no position at the moment to absorb the costs of the regulations that have been proposed," he said.

The commission's package calls for strengthening the Emissions Trading System (ETS), under which CO2 emissions are traded. It sets the goal of cutting carbon allowances year-on-year, to achieve an emissions cut of 21% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.

Tackling climate change is central to Europe's future prosperity
Jose Manuel Barroso
European Commission president

The package also includes plans to promote the use of renewable energy and develop carbon storage technology.

The credit crunch and fears of recession have fuelled anxiety across the EU about the cost of meeting the climate change targets.

But as the summit got under way, commission president Jose Manuel Barroso warned that "climate change does not disappear because of the financial crisis".

"Tackling climate change is central to Europe's future prosperity," he added, urging EU leaders not to abandon the EU's global leadership role in setting new emissions targets.

France, the current EU presidency holder, also stressed the need to stick to the emissions targets - a position strongly supported in the European Parliament.

In an apparent softening of the commission's position, environment commissioner Stavros Dimas told the BBC that governments should be able to achieve more than half of their target carbon cuts by paying developing countries to invest in clean energy projects.

Poland, reliant on coal-fired power plants for 96% of its electricity, wants the commission to raise the cap on its CO2 emissions.

Poland and Germany also want the EU to push back the 2013 start date for selling emissions permits. Permits are currently allocated for free to heavy industry in EU member states.

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