Can Europe cut carbon without cutting growth?
Radical goals for 2020 boost renewable energy and cut emissions sharply.
Europe unveiled a "road map" to a low-carbon future Wednesday – one of the most radical packages the European Union has ever produced – in an effort to position the bloc at the vanguard of global efforts on climate change.Skip to next paragraph
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A clump of legislative proposals and directives provided for steep increases in wind and solar power, improved energy efficiency, and higher costs for polluters to meet a challenge outlined last year and dubbed "triple 20."
The aim is to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent, boost renewable energy to 20 percent of supply, and improve energy efficiency by 20 percent – all by 2020.
The broader aspiration is to show the world that jobs and growth are not dependent on carbon. The challenge to the likes of China, India, and the United States is to join the effort, in which case the EU would raise its emissions-reduction target to 30 percent by 2020.
But there was skepticism and disappointment in equal measure. Industrial leaders warned that slapping a high cost on carbon would make Europe less competitive compared with countries that do not face such constraints. Green advocates expressed disappointment that the measures did not go far enough, particularly in light of commitments made at global talks in Bali last month.
"It's insufficient," says Stephan Singer of the WWF environmental group. "Europe was in favor at Bali of the declaration that in the future developed countries should cut by 25-40 percent," he says. "Now the ink of Bali is not even dry and they come out with a proposal for 20 percent."
"The key thing is for targets to be delivered on," said Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank, noting that emissions are actually rising in some EU countries. "Unless we reverse this trend, the rest of the world will say 'good policy but you're not delivering on it.' "
"It's a pretty important, concrete package with some pretty tough demands," says Tom Burke, founding director of the sustainable development organization E3G. "The clear message from this is the seriousness of the EU's intent to do something about climate change."
"The reason Europe is doing this is that there is a really deep understanding of how important it is to the security and prosperity of ... Europeans," he says. Other countries, he added, may face different economic circumstances, "but they all face the same problem of climate change."
The overall impact on the average European consumer will be palpable, but not punitive. Electricity prices are expected to rise as much as 15 percent, while travelers could pay an extra ¤40 for a long-haul flight, and a premium for gasoline, which will have to contain a 10-percent biofuel contingency by 2020.
EU climate-change road map
• Incentives for major CO2 emitters to develop clean technologies through Emissions Trading Systems
• The EU to lower greenhouse gases by at least 20 percent by 2020; some members enact deeper cuts than others
• EU to increase share of renewable energies in energy consumption to 20 percent by 2020
• Industries not covered under ETS plan – transport, agriculture, building, waste – must drop 10 percent below 2005 levels by 2020
• Emissions reductions to increase to 30 percent by 2020 only if US, China, India and others join in global deal
• By 2020, EU members must meet 10 percent minimum for biofuels in transport
Source: EU; compiled by John Aubrey