BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – European Union leaders meeting Thursday and Friday look to approve plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020, a first step in a post-Kyoto global warming strategy that could lead to mandatory limits for cars and pollution allowances for airlines.
There may be less agreement on other issues, however.
Al Gore, former U.S. vice president and environmental activist, told reporters Wednesday that the EU had an “absolutely critical leadership role to play.”
“I’m trying to get my country to change its policies but in the meantime the European Union is absolutely key to helping the world make the changes it must,” he said after speaking at a biofuels conference in Brussels.
The EU’s 27 nations are set to back a goal to cut carbon dioxide releases and keep global temperature under a 2-degree Celsius increase, saying they will agree to a 30 percent cut below 1990 levels if other major polluters, particularly the United States, join them. According to a draft agreement, they will aim to go even further in the future, with cuts of 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050.
A deal this week will help Germany push for an agreement on climate change from other regions when it leads talks between the Group of Eight industrialized nations in June.
But going beyond lip service and deciding how Europe should cut back on the fossil fuels that power its economy is proving more troublesome.
Governments have so far not been able to agree to set a mandatory target to generate 20 percent of all energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar power by 2020 or another goal for the same date to replace 10 percent of transport fuel with biofuels made from crops such as rapeseed or sugar cane.
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity on Tuesday because talks were ongoing, said there was an almost even split among EU nations on binding targets. They said German government officials were confident they could forge a joint stance on the issue by the end of the two-day summit Thursday and Friday, but they expected “very tricky” negotiations among the leaders.
While some nations – Spain, Germany and Denmark – have made strides in building wind farms to generate electricity, a mandatory target would force many others to invest heavily in new forms of power, and in the power grid itself. This is a problem for poorer eastern European nations such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia that rely on cheap coal and Soviet-era nuclear plants.
France is pushing for a higher “non-carbon” target that would include its favored form of generating electricity – nuclear energy – vehemently opposed by non-nuclear nations Austria, Denmark and Ireland.
In coming months, governments will discuss other EU plans to limit CO2 emissions from new cars and force all airlines – including non-EU carriers – to trade carbon permits.
EU leaders will also discuss forging closer trans-Atlantic economic ties with the United States, while a meeting of foreign ministers is to discuss latest developments in Somalia, Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program and ways to stabilize Lebanon.
On energy, EU nations are supportive of a wide-ranging voluntary goal to cut energy use by using more efficient heating, lighting and appliances.