Reporting and review plan for greenhouse gases

Proposals for a reporting mechanism to enable the European Commission to monitor the EC's progress towards stabilising its carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by 2000 were issued by the Commission on 1 June.1 The arrangements would pave the way for subsequent Community measures to ensure that the burden of curbing CO2 emissions is shared equitably among the Member States, and for future Community action on other greenhouse gases.

The proposal takes the form of a draft Decision, and is one of four in a package of action on CO2 unveiled by the Commission in May. The others are the carbon/energy tax and new programmes to promote energy efficiency and the renewables (ENDS Report 208, pp 33-5 ).

Although the tax in particular would have major economic implications, the negligible publicity given to the draft Decision does not reflect its likely long-term significance. Indeed, according to Nigel Haigh of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, the proposal is "the most important of the four items in the Commission's strategy on CO2," since the other three are merely among the possible means for limiting emissions, while the Decision addresses directly the combined effects of those and other policy measures.

The need for the proposal arises on the one hand from the EC's agreement in October 1990 to stabilise its CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by 2000, and on the other from the Commission's apparent reluctance to propose legislation apportioning emission targets to each Member State.

In place of such legislation there is only a political commitment to "equitable burden sharing" among EC countries in reaching the stabilisation target, and a key objective of the draft Decision is to furnish the Commission and the Member States with information on what burden each country is bearing in limiting its CO2 emissions. This would in turn provide a basis for future decisions on what action may have to be demanded of particular Member States to ensure that the overall Community target is met.

The earliest requirement of the proposal would apply as soon as the Decision entered into force. Member States would then have to report to the Commission their 1990 base year CO2 emissions. The data would be used to compile a Community CO2 inventory.

Subsequently, Member States would have to report annually on their emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

The proposal would also oblige each Member State to draw up a national CO2 emission programme, including specific emission targets for 1996, 1998 and 2000 which would have to be notified to Brussels by the end of 1994.

The draft goes on to provide that the national CO2 programmes "should comprise as far as possible" policies and measures to promote energy efficiency and fuel switching to lower no-carbon fuels. They should also contain assessments of the impact on emissions of possible EC measures - presumably including the proposed carbon/energy tax - and of the economic impact of all the foregoing.

In addition, the Commission wants the Member States to draw up programmes to enhance the sequestration of CO2 - presumably in carbon sinks such as forests - and to show what actions they plan to take to limit emissions of other greenhouse gases and the associated costs. The gases identified in the proposal are methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbons, and tropospheric ozone "precursors" - carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds.

These programmes would have to be forwarded to Brussels within one year of the Decision's entry into force. Each country's programme would be circulated to the other Member States.

The programmes would then be evaluated by the Commission "in order to examine whether they, in conjunction with the Community action, secure compliance with the Community CO2 stabilisation target, and as appropriate the limitation of other greenhouse gases." The results of the evaluation would be made public.

Thereafter, and "depending on the results of the evaluation the Commission may, if necessary, and with due regard to burden sharing, make all appropriate proposals for required additional actions with a view to ensuring the attainment of the Community's stabilisation target and the limitation of other greenhouse gas emissions." Such proposals, the draft goes on, should be open to adoption by qualified majority vote.

Having submitted their CO2 targets and national programmes to Brussels, Member States would have to report annually on the implementation of their programmes, and inform the Commission promptly of any major alterations to them.

The draft Decision would also establish an advisory committee consisting of representatives of the Member States. Its task would appear to be limited to assisting the Commission in drawing up procedures and methods for evaluating the progress made by Member States in implementing their programmes. Under the proposal the initial evaluation of those programmes, and possibly of the progress made in implementing them - the text is not clear on this point - would be left to the Commission itself.

The proposal raises many important issues. Questions may well be asked by some Member States whether the reporting and evaluation arrangements envisaged by the Commission are necessary at all, given that procedures for reporting and review of national greenhouse gas control programmes have been built into the new global Convention on Climate Change (ENDS Report 208, pp 19-22 ).

The Commission's defence is likely to be that it is the Community as a whole which will be aiming to meet the Convention's objective of returning greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the end of the century, and that without a reporting and review mechanism within the Community itself it would not be possible to guarantee compliance with that objective, let alone to achieve the EC's agreed goal of equitable burden sharing.

It is also likely that Member States will want to involve their officials more closely than provided in the draft in the Commission's evaluation of their national programmes - and particularly in the first such evaluation, since it is this which the Commission apparently intends to use as a springboard for further EC measures on greenhouse gases.

Objections can also be anticipated to the Commission's proposal that such measures should be subject to adoption by qualified majority vote.

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