Bjerregaard stresses need for EU climate action

Governments continue background talks on key Kyoto protocol implementation issues

European environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard has said that the EU needs to start work now on a European strategy to combat climate change. Addressing the European Parliament yesterday, Ms Bjerregaard said Europe must not relax into thinking that the date for compliance with the Kyoto greenhouse gas reduction target - 2008-2012 - was a long way away.

The Commission would bring out a strategy for coordinated EU policy instruments in time for heads of governments to discuss at their summit in June, she said.

MEPs present in Brussels gave the Commissioner a warm welcome, congratulating her on her performance at the fourth conference of the parties to the UN climate change convention (UNFCCC) in Buenos Aires in November (ENDS Daily 16 November 1998). Today they passed a resolution which said the conference had made a "small but significant" step in the process by producing an action plan with a timetable for further decisions.

That action plan is the basis for much of the diplomatic discussions which are on-going at the EU level. Despite a dip in media interest in the climate issue, representatives of the EU member states are meeting regularly in Brussels to put together the EU's position on a range of issues identified at Buenos Aires.

In the run-up to a sub-ministerial level meeting of the UNFCCC parties in June, the EU intends to submit about 20 papers to the convention secretariat on topics such as the compliance mechanism and how to tackle hydrofluorocarbons and perfluourocarbons, two of the Kyoto gases, that are often used to replace ozone-depleting chemicals.

Alongside this, the so-called "ad hoc" climate working group also has to tackle the politically charged issue of how much of a country's Kyoto target must be met through domestic action. Before Buenos Aires, the EU made it clear that it wanted a "concrete" cap on the proportion of a target that a country could reach through the "Kyoto" (formerly known as "flexible") mechanisms such as emissions trading.

Despite mighty efforts by the Austrians during their EU presidency in the second half of last year, EU ministers were unable to agree on a definition of what "concrete cap" actually meant (ENDS Daily 6 October 1998). Germany, currently in the presidency seat, is determined to settle the issue at the next meeting of environment ministers in March.

Austria's proposal was based on the principle that half of any emissions reductions should come from domestic efforts, but according to sources the group has now seen 29 different formulae for working out the cap. If the ad hoc group can not get a single definition, it must at least reduce the options to a reasonable number - perhaps three - for their ministers to choose from.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; UNFCCC, tel: +49 228 815 1000.

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