Thursday, July 22, 2010

EU Big-3 Calls for 30% Emissions Goal--Others Dismay

By seeking viable and concrete green policy action, the EU too often ends up overextending itself instead. In a recent climate-and-environment roundup by the media network EurActiv, the EU 'Big-3' (France, Germany, UK) have challenged Europe to slash CO2 emissions to 30 percent by 2020, ahead of the 'Europe 2020' green growth and jobs project. This entails bringing reticent Eastern European partners along and pulling off no less than a drastic overhaul of the "economics of nature" (see that quote and the roundup here.) These policy long-shots score points in the ambition category, but one can't help but wonder whether these EU mortals are only attempting to accomplish the divine.

The three ministers voicing this call hail from each of the EU's first-tier powers. British Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen claim that the previous bar of a 20 percent emissions reduction target will not adequately "drive green innovation and keep Europe in the race for clean technologies," as they wrote in a joint editorial piece June 15th in the Financial Times.

Which begs the question if such policy planning (rather, trying to speak CO2 reduction into reality ex nihilo) is really just putting the cart before the horse--and setting up for policy failure in a policy area that matters most to millions of Europeans.

Borloo, Huhne and Röttgen insisted the taller benchmark would serve to push EU competitiveness against green tech development in the US, Japan and China. Environmentally responsible competition is very well and good, provided the EU climate gurus don't lose vital political credibility in the process, at home and abroad. Europe enjoys a major advantage every time green-thinking Americans look to her for federal, environmental policy leadership. But this latest chapter in the saga of EU eco-platitudes may stand to lose on both environmental and political levels--simultaneously.

And the EU motion to raise emissions reduction is far from unanimous. Even EurActiv dubbed the new Big-3 goal a "unilateral move." Eastern European member states--many of whom are trailing way behind on the EU development spectrum--are having a hard enough time as it is. Bulgaria's reduction target stands at 16 percent, Slovakia's is 14 percent, and the famous Euro-curmudgeons in the Czech Republic share the lowest bar at 13 percent, with Hungary. Officials in Poland have demanded "more time" to scale back their country's heavy reliance on coal--even to meet the mark at 20 percent, fully one-third above their current goal at 15 percent. The former Soviet bloc states are also dealing with post-Berlin Wall industrial fallout, at which point heavy industry converted to local control and Russia went from economic benefactor to absentee.

An overambitious stretch toward a bigger emissions cut may trigger unintended political pushback between France, Germany and the UK--versus the EU's other 24.

So Europe is in green-policy disarray, and the Western EU is pushing in ways most of its partners don't bend. Some in Brussels are demanding the 30 percent figure be adopted only if other pollutant powers (think the US and China) commit to the same figure via a UN mandate. China aside, given the likely gains by climate-skeptic Republicans in Congress this November, there seems little chance such UN legislation will gain traction on American ground.

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