EU debates emission cuts for rich nations


Environment ministers from the 27-member bloc will meet on Monday (2 March) to fine-tune the EU’s position ahead of international climate negotiations for the period after 2012. But views differ as to how the world’s richest countries should contribute, with member states at odds over criteria such as GDP and population size.

In previous discussions, EU heads of state and government agreed that Europe, the US, Japan and other industrialised nations should jointly reduce their emissions by 30% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

The 30% figure is consistent with findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which advised developed countries to reduce their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050 to keep global temperature rises below 2°C.

But how to divide this overall target is still the subject of negotiation at UN level and is also set to divide EU member states, according to the Czech Republic, which will chair the meeting as holder of the rotating EU presidency.

A final decision on the Union’s position is expected to be taken by EU heads of state and government at a summit on 19-20 March in Brussels. It will then be taken to the UN global climate conference in Copenhagen in December.

In a proposal put forward in January, the European Commission suggested taking into account four criteria for calculating each country’s contribution:

  • GDP per capita;
  • Emissions per unit of GDP;
  • Emissions trends between 1990 and 2005, and;
  • Population trends over the period 1990 to 2005.

“The emission reduction efforts which are needed from the group of developed countries (25 to 40% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels) should be distributed fairly and in a way which ensures comparability of efforts,” says the Czech Presidency in a draft version of the environment ministers’ conclusions, seen by EURACTIV.

However, a number of countries have reservations about the four criteria proposed by the Commission. “Some delegations would prefer deletion of some of the criteria and/or inclusion of other criteria,” read the draft conclusions. “Other delegations would like to indicate that these criteria do not prejudge the EU’s internal burden-sharing when moving from 20 to 30% in the context of a global and comprehensive Copenhagen agreement.”

France, for instance, has proposed taking into account emissions per capita, suggesting that every country across the globe should cap emissions at two tonnes per inhabitant. 

“It is a criterion which is fair and which can also be an incentive for other countries around the world,” argued a French official, who said the proposal had received the backing of about a third of EU member states.

However, this proposal is disputed by other EU countries. “[The French] suggest this because they have among the lowest emissions per capita in the EU,” a Council source said, pointing out that Luxembourg would stand to lose the most if such criteria were to be applied. “During daytime, Luxembourg has a population that roughly doubles because of the population that comes to work there,” the official pointed out, saying such a measurement would be “artificial”.

On 28 January, the European Commission presented proposals for a global agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which expires in 2012. It urged emerging economies such as China and India to take on their fair share of responsibility and agree to limit their emission growth (by 15-30% below business-as-usual levels) by 2020 (EURACTIV 29/01/09).

The EU has already committed to a 20% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, regardless of the outcome of international negotiations. 

It announced its willingness to sign up to a 30% reduction target should other developed countries commit to comparable emission cuts, provided that "economically more advanced developing countries," like China and India, make "appropriate contributions" too.

  • 10 March: EU economy and finance ministers to discuss climate proposals.
  • 19-20 March: European summit to endorse EU position for global climate talks at UN level (COP 15, Copenhagen).
  • 7-18 Dec.: Copenhagen climate conference (COP 15). Projected completion of UN climate negotiations on post-2012 framework.

Subscribe to our newsletters