E-news update February 26 2007

CLIMATE

1.1. EU backs bold climate change goals
20 February 2007 , Reuters
European Union ministers backed ambitious targets on Tuesday to cut greenhouse gas emissions and started the touchy process of determining which states should carry the heaviest burden to combat climate change.
Environment ministers from the 27-nation bloc supported a binding commitment to cut the bloc’s emissions unilaterally by at least 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
They also backed a call for industrialised nations to reduce emissions of the gases blamed for heating the earth by 30 percent over that period, a goal the EU would match if other rich nations such as the United States joined in.
"So as far as these two objectives are concerned, those are things we agree," said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency. The targets would be mandatory, he said.
The ministers were preparing for a March 8-9 summit of the 27-nation bloc’s leaders, who will have the final say on the EU’s climate change and energy strategy.
The targets are expected to form the basis of the EU’s negotiating position for a global agreement to cut emissions after 2012, when the first period covered by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change ends.
The unanimous decision was a victory for the executive European Commission, which originally proposed the figures and will represent the EU in international talks.
"I’m … very encouraged by the fact that all member states strongly supported our proposal and the need for the European Union to continue its leadership in fighting climate change," Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said.
But several countries tempered their support with pleas for concessions to make their national share of the unilateral EU reductions less severe.
Burden sharing
Gabriel said some states were reluctant to sign up to the targets without a clear idea of how the burden would be distributed, while others pushed for a base year other than 1990 to be used when determining the required emissions cuts.
He said 1990 would be the reference year for the overall target, but the EU would look at using other years for some new east European member states’ targets.
Newcomers such as Poland want to use an earlier base year because their industries collapsed in 1990 and emissions dropped as a result of the fall of communism. Polish officials said Poland wanted to use 1988 as its base for emissions cuts.
Commissioner Dimas said the EU would come up with a "differentiated approach" on dividing up the targets.
A statement agreed by the ministers called on the Commission to start an analysis of criteria for burden-sharing, including "socio-economic parameters" and other relevant factors.
Finland , which spoke against the unilateral target at the meeting, said the final burden-sharing agreement must take into account different conditions among member states.
"The climate in Finland is cold, distances are long and the share of energy-intensive industries is relatively high," Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said in a statement, saying his country did not want its share to be unreasonable.
The 15 "old" states that were members before the EU expanded to 25 nations in 2004 and 27 countries in 2007 have a collective target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent by 2012 compared to 1990 levels.
Germany ‘s Gabriel said some countries would be expected to reduce more than others in the strategy for 2020.
Environmental group WWF said the ministers’ decision confirmed the EU’s intent to meet its international obligations.
Greenpeace urged EU leaders to sign up to a unilateral 30 percent reduction goal, a more ambitious target that also has the support of Sweden and Denmark .

1.2. EU heads for double standards on cutting emissions
20 February 2007 , Friends of the Earth Europe
Environment Ministers attempt progressive stance on climate, but forget that reform starts at home.
The EU is heading for a double standard on cutting carbon dioxide emissions, warned Friends of the Earth Europe today after a meeting of Environment Ministers.
Ministers reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to build and expand on Kyoto to achieve absolute emission reductions by developed countries, going so far as to acknowledge that developed countries must reduce their emissions by 30 percent by 2020. But paradoxically, they suggested a unilateral target for the EU itself of only reducing emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Jan Kowalzig, Climate and Energy Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Setting a target to reduce emissions by only 20 percent by 2020 is in dire conflict with scientific findings and political wisdom. The Environment Council notes that a 30 percent cut is necessary but announces to do less. This will send the wrong signal to the international community, casting a dubious light on how serious the European Union is about fighting climate change."
Even the 20 percent target was difficult to agree on, obstructed by Finland , Poland and Hungary . Sweden and Denmark were the only countries that supported a 30 percent unilateral target, while most other EU Member States were content with the lower unilateral target of 20 percent. A final position for the EU will be agreed by Heads of States at the Spring Summit in Brussels on March 8th and 9th.
"In public actions across Europe , people are calling for a real commitment to fight climate change. The EU should unilaterally set itself a target of reducing domestic emissions by at least 30 percent compared to 1990 levels. This would not only match the urgency of the climate crisis, but also give confidence for the energy industry when planning investments," Mr Kowalzig added.
In the weeks before the Spring Summit, European citizens are calling for dramatic reductions in emissions and a clean safe energy policy based on renewable and energy efficiency.
In thirteen countries across Europe , people are adding their signatures to 2m-high golden stars symbolising sustainable energy options. These stars, provided by Friends of the Earth, will be incorporated into a large installation of a mock-EU flag outside the EU Summit on 9th March.
Also, in Georgia , Finland , Norway , the Netherlands and Sweden , Friends of the Earth groups have organised public actions in which people built snowmen as poignant symbols of the victims of climate change.

1.3. Europe Can do More on Climate Change – UNEP Head
19 February 2007 , Reuters
European nations are not doing enough to fight climate change and should show more leadership before they criticise the United States and Asia , the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Saturday.
Achim Steiner said in an interview with Bild am Sonntag newspaper that climate change has been caused primarily by carbon dioxide emissions from Western industrialised nations and it was thus their responsibility to lead the fight against it.
He said the United States and Asia were now moving faster in the fight against climate change than Europe , which he said has grown complacent.
"The Americans and Asians are catching up quickly and are becoming strong business competitors (with green technologies)," Steiner said, in excerpts of the interview released ahead of Sunday’s publication.
"But in Europe we’ve cherished the illusion in recent years that ‘we’ve done enough’," he added.
He praised Germany , which holds the European Union presidency, for "showing initiative" but said it was not enough.
"It’s important that Germany move forward," he said, referring to Europe ‘s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The European Union’s environment commissioner earlier this month said Germany ‘s lack of progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions was holding back international efforts to combat global warming.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to make fighting climate change a centrepiece of Germany ‘s twin EU and G8 presidencies.
But Germany ‘s recent track record on cutting carbon dioxide emissions is poor. It vowed to cut these by 21 percent from 1990 to 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol but has slipped away from the target.
"Yes, we favour ecology and responsibility for the future, but let us stick to what we can do," said Kurt Beck, chairman of the Social Democrats who share power with Merkel’s party, in a speech on Saturday. Beck has opposed more ambitious CO2 cuts.
"Let’s stay reasonable, yes, but let’s use our technology worldwide so that other countries can grow with less CO2."
Don’t blame China
Carbon dioxide (CO2), produced by burning fossil fuels, traps heat in the atmosphere. Scientists say if emissions are not curbed sea levels will rise, while drought and floods will have more dire consequences.
The European Commission last month presented a new more ambitious target of cutting CO2 in the 27-nation bloc by at least 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels with the possibility of going to 30 percent if other developed countries joined in.
Steiner also said it was a myth for Europeans to think China had no interest in the environment.
"We have a historic responsibility," Steiner, a German national who was born and raised in Brazil , said when asked why Europeans should cut CO2 emissions when "hundreds of millions of Chinese were switching from bicycles for cars."
"The climate problem of today was not caused by China but above all by Western nations. So the first step has to come from us. Moreover, it’s wrong to assume that China is not interested in climate protection."
Steiner pointed out that the Chinese government last year launched a US$180 billion renewable energy programme.
"We’ve only been looking at China through brown smog coloured glasses," he said. "But there are already cities being planned (in China ) that will have zero CO2 emissions."

1.4. International Group Sets Plan To Curb Global Warming
21 February 2007 , Planet Ark Reuters
More than 100 corporate heads, international organizations and experts set out a plan on Tuesday to cut greenhouse gas emissions, calling on governments to act urgently against global warming.
"Failing to act now would lead to far higher economic and environmental costs and greater risk of irreversible impacts," the Global Roundtable on Climate Change warned in a statement, announcing their first major agreement since they began talks in 2004.
The group, which includes executives from a range of industries including air transport, energy, and technology, called on governments to set targets for greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The agreement urged governments to place a price on the carbon emissions released by power plants, factories and other sectors to discourage emissions.
"Of course, addressing climate change involves risks and costs. But much greater is the risk of failing to act," said Alain Belda, chairman and CEO of the world’s top aluminium producer Alcoa, who signed the pact.
The group includes General Electric, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor North America, investment bank Goldman Sachs, and Wal-Mart among its major corporations.
President George W. Bush’s administration has rejected mandatory caps on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases in the United States that contribute to a documented rise in world temperatures — which is linked to more severe storms, worse droughts, rising seas and other ills.
But the White House has recently been on the defensive, especially since the Feb. 2 release of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which called global warming "unequivocal" and said with 90 percent probability that human activities help cause it.
CO2 emissions rising
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is about 30 percent higher than in 1900 and nearly half of this increase has occurred since 1980.
Given fast-rising emissions from developing nations, the group estimated that a "business-as-usual" path could put the planet at three times the carbon dioxide levels seen before 1900.
The largest carbon-emitting sector is power generation, responsible for more than 40 percent of global energy-related emissions.
Industry accounts for more than 18 percent of emissions, transport contributes another 20 percent, and the residential and services sector roughly 13 percent.
The group estimates that technology to head off mounting carbon dioxide concentrations would cost about 1 percent of global gross domestic product. Costs would fall as technologies become more established, it predicted.
"If we delay too long in beginning the changeover to increasingly de-carbonised energy systems, the eventual costs will only rise and the impact of climate change will only become more severe," the group wrote in its agreement, warning that poorer nations would see the worst impact from climate change.

ENERGY

2.1. Israel has taken a significant step today towards becoming a solar-leader
21 February 2007