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For Eastern Europe, the cost of going green will be a challenge

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (r.) and his foreign minister, Franco Frattini, spoke to the media Wednesday at an EU environmental conference in Brussels.

By Anna MomiglianoContributor of The Christian Science Monitor / October 23, 2008

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

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Milan, Italy

Although Europe has developed a reputation as one of the most green-minded regions in the world, in some European countries it appears that environmentalism has a price limit.

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A year ago, European leaders cheerfully announced a bright, green future: a 20 percent reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, a 20 percent increase in energy from renewable resources, and a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency by 2020.

But when European Union (EU) member states met to finalize the plan last week in Brussels, the mood had changed considerably.

Amid the global economic meltdown, Italy and eight former communist countries now complaining that the financial cost of meeting these green targets could place undue strain on their economies.

As they weigh the financial cost of being green vs. the intrinsic value of environmental stewardship, the episode could pose the first test case for whether developing nations are willing to fight climate change even if it means making financial sacrifices.

“If Europe hesitates further this would have a tremendously negative effect on the global negotiation on climate change” says Tonia Mastrobuoni, a journalist at Il Riformista progressive daily.

In the past the EU has been internationally regarded as the role model for combining economic growth with environmental friendly policies.

However, says Antonio Missiroli, the director of studies at the European Policy Center in Brussels, the EU will lose its reputation, unless it resolves this issue by the end of the year.

Italy threatens to veto the plan in December, unless the European Commission agrees to lower the proposed standards.

Together with eight former Soviet bloc countries, Italy has requested less severe greenhouse-gas emissions standards in order to facilitate industrial productivity.

However, Germany, Spain, and France say they don’t intend to back down on the so-called 20-20-20 plan.

Italy’s environmental minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, says the EU target unnecessarily penalizes the entire  EU, while economic powers like the United States don’t adhere to similar standards.

“Europe would like to eliminate the world’s carbon dioxide production all by itself,” she said last Friday in an interview with the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica. “But the price is prohibitive.”

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi estimates the impact of such regulation amounts at 18 billion euros ($23 billion) each year, or 1.14 percent of the national gross domestic product.

Stavros Dimas, European commissioner for the environment, however, says the cost is below 12.3 billion euros ($15.7 billion).

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