The EU's new commissioner for climate action wants Europe to continue leading global negotiations and pursue deeper emission cuts, even if its current pledge of 20% reductions by 2020 is not matched by other developed countries. 

"The EU must continue to take leadership," Connie Hedegaard told the European Parliament yesterday (9 March) in Strasbourg, while presenting a new EU communication on climate action. "The most convincing way Europe can do so is by taking tangible and determined action domestically to become the most climate-friendly region in the world."

With talks blocked by squabbling in the United States, the global economic crisis and mounting scepticism over climate science, Commissioner Hedegaard said the EU would demonstrate how to meet its green goals while creating jobs and boosting economies.

Raising emission reduction target 'in Europe's interest'

"It is in Europe's own interest [to do so]," Hedegaard said. "If we do it intelligently, it will enhance our competitiveness, strengthen our energy security, stimulate green economic growth and innovation, and by that we will create new jobs."

The EU climate chief said the European Commission would present an analysis of what it would take for Europe to reduce its emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020.

The bloc's possible move to 30% was marred by internal divisions among its 27 member states, with Poland and Italy worried about the cost of such a switch, and countries like Sweden and the UK keen to take on the challenge.

Hedegaard said that although a conditional 30% pledge is part of the EU's negotiation strategy for global talks, the Union should also consider making the move given the positive implications it would have for Europe's growth.

The new strategic plan will also strengthen energy security, she said, pointing to the EU's 'Europe 2020' strategy, which aims to slash 60 billion euros from the cost of the bloc's oil and gas imports over the next decade.

Indeed, the Commission has adjusted its wording slightly and now talks about committing to 30% "if the conditions are right".

Later this year the Commission is expected to come up with a paper on pathways to 2050. Hedegaard stressed that it is already important to start thinking in terms of 2030, because 2020 is only ten short years away. Consequently the document presented yesterday already refers to 2030.

Kyoto or not Kyoto?

Hedegaard explained that the EU wants to see all other developed nations commit to a binding treaty, but said it would also be ready to continue with the Kyoto Protocol.

She insisted that the EU had delivered on its commitments under Kyoto and therefore has no problem with the agreement, although there are elements that would clearly need reform.

In particular, the Commission warns that loopholes in the Kyoto architecture are undermining the goal of keeping global warming below 2°, which is already at risk as a result of weak emission reduction pledges from developed countries.

The Commission estimates that developed country pledges currently on the table range from 13.2% to 17.8% below 1990 levels by 2020.

But it warns that these figures would be weakened even further if East European countries were allowed to "bank" their unused Kyoto emissions credits under the future international agreement.

Russia, Ukraine and other East European countries are holding 10 billion tonnes of unused greenhouse gas emission credits, which resulted from industry restructuring in the early 1990s following the collapse of communism, the paper warns (EurActiv 22/10/09).

If this so-called 'hot air' could be re-used under the future agreement, developed countries' pledges would fall even further, ranging from 6.4% to 11%, the paper says.

Moreover, current rules on land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) would allow developed countries to claim reductions without pursuing additional measures, weakening the pledges further so that industrialised countries might at worst increase their emissions by 2.6% above 1990 levels, according to the paper.

Funding for developing countries

Mobilising fast-start funding for the 2010-2012 period should be one of the EU's priorities, Hedegaard said. She stressed that the EU would be ready to deliver on its commitment to provide €2.4 billion annually by the Bonn climate talks in June.

The Commission proposed to coordinate implementation of EU funding, while member states could take the lead on specific countries or themes depending on their funding priorities. To avoid delays, the money would be channelled through existing initiatives, member states' bilateral development cooperation programmes or international institutions, it said.

Climate diplomacy

The EU will bolster its outreach in order to build confidence that a global deal can be reached and to explore specific, action-oriented decisions that could be taken in Cancun next December. 

Hedegaard is due to travel to the US and Mexico next week and is expected to host talks later this month in Brussels with Chinese representatives. In April, she is scheduled to visit India, Japan and China.

The communication outlined that part of the EU's outreach to the US, Japan and Australia should be working to develop an OECD-wide carbon market by 2015, linking together those countries' domestic cap-and-trade systems. 

EU environment ministers will also discuss international climate diplomacy when they meet in Brussels next week (15 March).