There is intense focus on the mega-conference in Pozna? this fortnight. But this isn’t the only set of climate policy negotiations currently in progress. In fact, if a major international climate agreement is reached during the next two weeks, it’s much more likely to happen in Belgium than in Poland.
The European Union is currently trying to hammer out the final details of a package of legislation that will define its climate policy for the next decade. The process began in March 2007, when EU leaders agreed on a set of ambitious climate and energy targets. These include a binding commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and to source 20% of Europe’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Setting the goals was the easy part: getting all the EU’s member states to agree on how to reach them is proving to be much more of a challenge. Environment Ministers from each of the twenty-seven EU member states have gathered today to try and iron out remaining disagreements over the package.
Several east European states are particularly concerned about the carbon reduction target. Poland, for example, relies on coal for over 90% of its electricity generation. This is partly because its energy options are limited: it currently has very little renewable generation and for political reasons it is reluctant to rely on imported natural gas from Russia. It is also worried about the effects the cuts would have on the competitiveness of its heavy industry.
Ministers will be discussing several possible compromises that might address some of these concerns and allow the package to be approved. These include giving free emissions permits to energy-intensive industries and to countries that are heavily reliant on coal for power generation.
The EU has undergone a process of rapid enlargement over the last five years (12 new members have joined since 2004). The new members are almost entirely former-eastern bloc countries who are generally poorer than west-European states. The argument over the targets has highlighted the challenges that the EU faces as it tries on one hand to be seen as a global leader in tackling climate change and on the other to accommodate the economic and political realities of its poorer member states.
The hope is that today’s discussions will clear the way for a final agreement when the European Council meets next week. The Council consists of all European heads of government or and the President of the European Commission. It will have to agree unanimously on the new legislation for it to become law, and any agreement will then have to be approved by the European Parliament.