Barroso: Climate change and energy ‘at top of EU political agenda’

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Commission President José Manuel Barroso told EURACTIV he has high hopes that agreement on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change can be reached by 2009, as the UN conference in Bali (3-14 December) brings together world leaders to discuss the issue.

José Manuel Barroso is president of the European Commission. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here. 

The UN climate conference opened in Bali on 3 December. What are the EU’s expectations from the meeting? 

It is the start of an important process that should lead to a truly global deal on climate change. It is worth recalling that even six months ago, many people felt that we would not reach this point. We have been able to reach consensus on using the UN framework and I believe that all those in Bali have determined that a global deal is needed. 

The EU therefore has high expectations for the meeting, which should mark the first steps towards a future UN framework with binding targets. Our own research and that of the UN Panel on Climate Change is unequivocal on the scale of the problem and the need to act now. 

Our main objective is therefore to achieve a clear commitment to start negotiations towards an agreement on how to tackle climate change after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires. We must set 2009 as a clear deadline for this agreement in order to allow for the time for ratification. The Commission wants a consensus and a shared vision on how to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

The EU has put its cards on the table. Our commitments are clear – we hope others will follow. We are proposing a series of concrete measures or “building blocks”. Developed countries must commit to deeper absolute emission reductions through improved technology and the creation of a global carbon market. They must also assist developing countries in their transition towards becoming low carbon economies. We must find fair but effective ways for developing countries to contribute to the reduction of emissions. The issue of emissions from international aviation and maritime transportation must be addressed as well as the issue of deforestation. In addition, we expect to seriously discuss the need to increase research investments in low carbon technology. 

China is set to surpass the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions but it is unwilling to commit to binding cuts as long as the US doesn’t do so. How can the EU help to find a way out of this impasse in Bali? 

I have just come back from China. I am cautiously optimistic that we can reach a consensus. My message to China was clear. While we do not expect identical commitments from developed and developing countries, the stunning economic growth of China brings new responsibilities to its leaders. 

We do not expect developing countries like China to take on absolute emission reduction commitments. We can, however, make it clear that we want to cooperate with developing countries to strengthen their contributions to the global reduction effort, using all opportunities to reduce the emission intensity of their economic development. 

The point I made in China can be best summarised as a question. I essentially said: “Do you want the rise of China to be seen as a threat to the world, to the global economy or do we want it to be seen as an opportunity?” We in the Commission believe it is better to see it as an opportunity, we believe that the impressive economic growth in China, India and Vietnam and other countries can be a huge opportunity for the world, but we believe that this growth brings increased responsibility on their side – responsibility in terms of tackling global challenges like climate change. Honestly it is not possible to say today “I will go on with my energy intensive fossil pattern, I don’t mind about the rest of the world.” China is already experiencing the effects of pollution on health as well as on climate change. 

The EU is seen as a world leader in fighting climate change. However, a recent UN inventory report showed only limited progress by EU countries in reducing emissions (-1.5% for the EU 15 and -11% for the EU 27). What additional measures is the Commission planning to help meet the 2008-2012 targets? 

Well, we are moving in the right direction. We are optimistic that we can deliver on our commitments and the targets we have set for 2012. It should be remembered that we are only starting to see the fruit of our work because many of the measures only came into force in 2004 and 2005. 

Perhaps most importantly we have put climate change and energy at the top of the political agenda and in a fully integrated approach. The 20% energy efficiency; 20% renewables and 20% greenhouse gas emissions targets demonstrate our commitment to deliver on our existing targets but also go further in looking at the medium term agenda. Moreover, the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan presented in November aims to speed up the innovation of low carbon technologies by focusing on more joint planning. 

In the coming weeks we will present a series of new initiatives to take us to the next level. 

On 19 December, we will go further by presenting legislative proposals to cut emissions in the automobile sector to 120 grams per kilometre by 2012. 

On 23 January, we will propose a package of measures to implement on energy and climate change. The package includes a proposal on the development of sustainable coal technologies and a directive on the promotion of renewable energy, as well as a proposal to amend the Emissions Trading Directive. This will contribute to the creation of a global carbon market. 

Some EU countries and energy-intensive industries are pushing for a “border tax adjustment” for goods imported from countries which have not signed up to the Kyoto Protocol. How do you see such a system being applied in Europe without contravening WTO rules? 

The European Union will seek to protect but not enter into protectionism. While we tackle climate change and energy insecurity, we also need to bolster competitiveness by minimising costs. This is part of the rationale behind our review of the Emissions Trading Scheme that we will present in January. 

As long as there is no international agreement that creates a level playing field, it is important to consider and address competitiveness and carbon leakage concerns for specific industries: it would be neither good environmental policy nor economically viable if energy-intensive industries were to leave Europe and emit emissions, perhaps even higher ones, outside Europe. 

We are currently studying different options to address these issues, such as continued free allocation of allowances, preferably on the basis of technological energy-efficiency benchmarks, international sectoral agreements and the inclusion of importers of energy-intensive products – and the exclusion of exporters – in the EU emissions trading scheme. 

In designing these options, we will need to take into account that such options need to be workable, WTO compatible and send a clear signal to third countries to engage in an international agreement. 

EU countries are currently leaders in low-carbon technologies but others – again China and the US – are catching up fast thanks to large state-funded programmes. In Europe though, such large-scale programmes still look like a distant dream due to financing problems. What can the EU do given its limited budget? How long can it continue to claim to lead the world without bigger financing? 

Europe’s response to the challenge of climate change is not only a question of money, far from it. Even with limited funding, the EU can create the right incentives for researchers and investors. Investors will only increase long term investments and take larger risks if they are sure that policies are stable. It is crucial that we also engage with industry and provide companies and investors with the best possible policies and a framework that encourages the development and deployment of low carbon technologies. 

Research must also be better coordinated to increase the innovation of low carbon technologies; this is the objective of the Strategic Energy Technology Plan presented in November. 

In early 2008, the Commission will create a Steering Group to implement the SET-Plan which will coordinate policies and programmes, make resources available and monitor and review progress systemically. As part of the SET Plan, we are launching a series of initiatives next year labelled the “European Industrial Initiatives”, which aim to boost research and innovation by bringing together the relevant actors. The Commission is also proposing the creation of a European Energy Research Alliance to ensure better cooperation and planning among energy researchers. Obviously we also need to direct more funding towards this area and we will present ideas on financing low carbon technologies during 2008. 

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