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EU to push forward climate goals despite financial concerns

3 min

European leaders have insisted environmental targets be maintained despite objections from some countries that the financial crisis makes them less attainable.

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European Union leaders maintained Thursday the targets and timetable for their hard-fought climate change plans, amid growing pressure to tailor the package as the financial crisis bites.

Italy and Poland brandished the threat of a veto if their reservations were not taken into account, while Germany, Europe's largest economy, also voiced concerns over the ambitious environmental plans.

"I can confirm that the objectives remain the same, the calendar remains the same, now it's up to (us) to find solutions for those countries that expressed concerns," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

"The climate package is so important that we cannot simply drop it, under the pretext of a financial crisis," Sarkozy, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, told reporters at the close of an EU summit in Brussels.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso added: "We are not going to let up on the battle against climate change, no question of choosing against combating the financial crisis and climate change."

Last year, EU leaders vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. They also pledged to have renewable energies make up 20 percent of all energy sources.

But many EU nations have begun to baulk at the costs involved and the consequences to industry of the climate change goals when they are cut up into individual national targets.

At the summit, the plans to tackle the gases that cause global warming began to wilt under pressure as the leaders started to tailor the package to take account of national concerns about its economic impact.

Although the likes of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have urged leaders to stick to their objectives, a declaration delivered at the end of the two-day summit indicated they would be trimmed.

According to the text, the 27 heads of state and government agreed the package should be introduced in a "cost-effective manner... having regard to each member state's specific situation".

Sarkozy called for "some flexibility" to be shown to satisfy dissenters.

Poland, heavily dependent on coal-fired power, said it would resist attempts to railroad the targets through.

President Lech Kaczynski evoked the possibility of using the veto again on Thursday, proclaiming that if the summit seeks proposals which "will run counter to Poland's interests, we will probably have to do this,"

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was the most outspoken on Wednesday, threatening to to torpedo the EU climate change plans, branding them too big a burden for business amid the global financial crisis.

Berlusconi said he had only finally accepted a compromise here in exchange for the package being adopted unanimously by all 27 countries at their next summit in December.

"If Europe decides unanimously, then its 530 million citizens will bear the costs in the same way, which satisfies our demands," he said on Thursday.

The detailed discussions on national targets will begin next Monday at a meeting in Luxembourg of EU environment ministers.

The EU hopes the deal, when reached, will put Europe at the forefront of international talks on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Ahead of the summit, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk led eastern European nations in calling on EU partners to "respect the differences in member states' economic potential," in fixing national goals to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

The call for special attention confirmed fears in Brussels and elsewhere that the package would unravel.

"This is not the time to abandon a climate change agenda which is important for the future," Brown said, noting that high oil prices and less energy security "makes it more important that we deal with a long-term policy."

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