EU backs 20% emissions cut by 2020

EU heads of state have agreed that the EU will cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, even if other countries fail to follow suit.

Agreement on the target was first reached at an Environment Council meeting on 20 February and then by heads of state at the European Council on 8-9 March. The target is the EU’s contribution towards global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions after existing targets under the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012.

The Commission will have to decide how to apportion the target between member states. Countries will be able to continue using the emission baseline allotted to them under the Kyoto Protocol.

Both meetings also agreed to raise the target to 30% if other developed countries make the same commitment and emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil make an "adequate" contribution. Both targets were originally proposed by the European Commission in January (ENDS Report 384, pp 26-29 ).

The heads of state also agreed that, beyond 2020, developed countries should aim to reduce emissions collectively by 60-80% by 2050.

As a concession to France and other pro-nuclear countries designed to win their support for a binding renewables target, the summit recognised the contribution of nuclear energy to meeting "growing concerns about safety of energy supply and carbon dioxide emissions reductions." But the conclusions do not mention a target demanded by France for increasing the share of "low-carbon energy".

The leaders also agreed to the Commission’s proposal for an ambitious binding target for renewables to account for 20% of energy consumption by 2020. Fierce negotiations are inevitable when the target is apportioned among member states according to their various circumstances, starting points and potentials. An EU Directive setting out the proposals is expected from the Commission in the third quarter of this year.

The summit also accepted the Commission’s proposals for all member states to achieve a 10% minimum binding target of the share of biofuels in overall transport petrol and diesel consumption by 2020, and for a non-binding commitment to cut energy consumption by 20% by 2020, as proposed in the Commission’s energy efficiency action plan in October (ENDS Report 382, pp 47-48 ).

Agreement was also reached that the EU emissions trading scheme should include international aviation and maritime transport emissions, cut emissions from deforestation and enhance carbon sinks by sustainable forest management and land use practices.

Meanwhile, the Environment Council debated several other important legislative proposals:

  • Aviation: All member states except Hungary supported the Commission’s proposal to amend the emissions trading Directive to include aviation in the scheme (ENDS Report 384, p 45 ). But most, including the UK, saw no benefit in trying to head off US opposition by restricting the scheme to intra-EU flights during the first year in 2011 and extending it to all flights 12 months later.

    "We appreciate the Commission is trying to defuse opposition from non-EU states in proposing a two-stage approach," said a UK statement, "but we are not convinced that a delay of just one year… will significantly diffuse any opposition. We would therefore like to see the phased introduction removed from the proposal, with the scheme being introduced on an all arriving and departing basis as soon as possible."

    Most member states, including the UK, backed setting the sector’s cap centrally rather than allowing member states to submit proposals for their individual shares. This has been a weakness of the current trading scheme. Several countries, including newer member states, want the distribution of allowances to take into account countries’ different levels of aviation development. This would avoid penalising young, fast-growing airlines with cleaner aircraft in favour of older, more established ones.

    The UK also called for extra provisions to allow the cap to be revised downwards to keep carbon prices at a reasonable level.

    Sweden and the Netherlands argued against proposals to limit auctioning of allowances to the average level adopted by member states in the EUETS’ second phase. Instead, the two countries called for full auctioning because it would allow efficient operators to buy fewer allowances.

  • CO2 from cars: Ministers expressed support for a Commission proposal to set a binding target to cut CO2 emissions from new cars to 130 grams per kilometre by 2012 (ENDS Report 385, p 51 ). The Commission says additional measures, such as increasing use of biofuels, would help achieve a total cut to 120g/km.

    According to environmental group T&E, only Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands sided with the European Parliament by urging that the binding target should be 120g/km, as currently set out in the voluntary agreement between carmakers and the Commission.

    The UK, along with Denmark and the Netherlands, called for a longer-term objective, such as 80-100g/km by 2020.

    Several member states questioned whether greater use of biofuels should count towards a reduction in car CO2 emissions and asked the Commission to explain how it would calculate biofuels’ contribution.

    Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said legislative proposals would be issued by the start of 2008.

  • Soil protection:
    Many member states, including the UK, had misgivings about the proposed soil framework Directive, which was issued last year alongside an EU thematic strategy on soil.

    The Directive would set obligations to identify and remediate contaminated land and to combat soil erosion and organic matter decline (ENDS Report 381, pp 47-48 ).

    Environmental groups are concerned about its lengthy timetable for compliance and lack of mandatory targets to reduce concentrations of substances in soils, improve organic matter levels and increase biowaste recovery for soil application.

    Although the Directive would leave many policy decisions to member states, many complained the proposals would overlap with national regimes and add unnecessary costs and administrative burdens.

    The UK, for example, said it already has "risk-based" legislation for identifying and remediating contaminated land. Adoption of the Directive would require existing legislation to be revised.

    The Directive’s approach may be "disproportionately prescriptive and costly" and could cause land and property blight, it added. On its own, the proposed chemical sampling requirement "is likely to cost more than the total costs identified by the Commission for the entire Directive at EU-25 level".

    The UK is also concerned that the proposal to limit soil sealing in the Directive would prevent assessment on the basis of economic and social, as well as environmental, effects, as currently occurs under the planning regime’s rules for sustainability appraisals.

  • Pesticides: The Council called for "greater coherence" between the proposed Directive on sustainable pesticide use and existing measures for the protection of surface and groundwater set out in the water framework Directive.

    It also called for the pesticides thematic strategy to be broadened to cover biocides. Environmental groups want governments to adopt national action plans for biocides (ENDS Report 385, pp 50-51 ) similar to those proposed under the pesticides Directive. These would set out plans for monitoring and reducing the risks associated with product use.

    Ministers also stressed the need to consider voluntary as well as mandatory measures, and to promote low-pesticide input framing, including organic farming.