Page last updated at 08:41 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 09:41 UK

Call to maintain climate targets

By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

Coal power station chimney
The meeting being held is in advance of the EU summit

Ed Miliband, the new energy and climate secretary, has urged Europe's leaders to withstand recession fears and maintain climate change ambitions.

It was still possible to cut greenhouse gases in Europe 20% by 2020, he said.

Mr Miliband also argued EU targets would also help the economy by creating new jobs in clean technology.

There were huge gains to be made through efficiency measures which would improve energy security without needing to increase energy imports, he added.

This case is also being made strongly by the French presidency.

Mr Miliband is attending the EU council of energy ministers, a meeting which will set the tone for next week's EU summit, where there will be multiple pressures to water down the climate package in response to the recession.

Aircraft fuel

The energy and climate secretary will propose an element of watering down himself, suggesting aviation should be withdrawn from the EU's targets to increase renewable energy sources in all sectors by 20% by 2020.

He thinks this is irrational because the only existing source of alternative fuel for planes is biofuel, which is itself increasingly blamed for environmental destruction.

Otherwise, he argues, the climate package should stand.

"We need to stick to our climate change targets, to stick to our targets on renewables. We also need to show we can tackle climate change in a way that is fair and affordable for ordinary families," he said.

Ed Miliband (Image: PA)
Ed Miliband is head of the new government department

Mr Miliband said he would be continuing the UK's bid for a reduction in VAT on energy-saving goods, a suggestion treated with scepticism by the Germans until now.

He also stressed that climate change policy had to be seen as an opportunity.

"What people are increasingly realising is that energy affordability and climate change come together. If we can find ways of saving energy it cuts their bills but it also contributes to [cutting] our carbon emissions," he said.

The crunch will come next week when Poland and other east European nations will press for the continuation of free allocations of carbon permits for their power sector. Germany and Italy will argue that export sectors should also be handed out free permits.

Both would drive down the cost of carbon permits in the EU emissions trading system and therefore reduce the impetus for industry to make energy efficiencies.

Environmentalists' worries

There is cynicism among environmentalists about the bid from the power firms to be given free permits.

Power firms across the EU are believed to have gained a windfall worth tens of billions of pounds because they have increased their prices to consumers as if they had to buy permits in the EU trading scheme even though they have been receiving the permits free of charge.

Another proposal lodged with the commission would allow some EU sectors, such as transport, to trade away 65% of their carbon targets by buying carbon permits from developing countries.

Environmentalists also warn the EU's claims to lead the world in a new global climate deal next year may be crumbling in the face of the recession.

This fear was raised earlier this week by the economist Lord Stern, author of the Stern Review on climate change.

He said climate should be seen in the same way as the credit crunch, which could have been averted if people had put the right measures in places 10-15 years ago.

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