EU warned of climate policy credibility gap

European Commission calls for "substantial increase" in efforts to meet Kyoto commitment

The EU will fail to meet its international commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a large margin unless it makes "substantial improvements" in climate policy measures, the European Commission warned today.

In a communication on implementing the Kyoto protocol prepared for next month's Cologne summit of EU leaders, the Commission identifies a gap between "ambitious" EU international negotiating positions and practical actions to achieve its own targets. "Ambition...has to be complemented by concrete action and tangible results," it warns. "When assessing the current situation, the conclusions are not very positive."

Without further policy measures, the Commission points out, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to rise by 6% from 1990 levels by 2010. The EU is committed to cut emissions over the same period by 8%, leaving a huge 14% gap to be filled. The transport sector is causing particular cause for alarm, says the paper, with carbon dioxide emissions expected to rise by 39% from 1990 to 2010.

The lack of progress in tackling these trends is largely down to EU governments the paper suggests. "The Commission has already developed a wide range of policy initiatives," it says. But on dossiers like the proposed EU-wide energy tax it "is confronted with deadlock in the Council [of Ministers]," while on others such as the energy efficiency programme Save II, "the Council provided resources that are substantially less than required".

In order to "generate a persistent downward trend" in emissions, the paper concludes, there will have to be "a reinforcement of measures". It goes on to review the options open to the EU and calls for action to be taken "in all sectors and at all levels".

The Commission "urges" member states to agree its proposal for an EU-wide tax system for energy products. It calls on EU countries to develop their own fiscal incentives in various areas "within the flexibility offered by the internal market and competition rules". Member states should tax aircraft fuel for intra-EU flights, as allowed for under the energy products tax directive, and the EU should introduce a generalised aircraft fuel tax "as soon as the international legal situation allows".

In other areas, the Commission calls for substantially greater integration of environmental considerations into sectoral policy making and for more EU level voluntary agreements with industry sectors to reduce their greenhouse gases. "More efforts" should be made to improve the Union's mechanism for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, while the EU "must take steps" to assist accession countries to respond to the Kyoto challenge.

The paper also points up a lack of knowledge in the EU on the "flexible mechanisms" introduced under the Kyoto protocol. "So far there is hardly any experience" with instruments such as emissions trading, it says. "The policy challenge ahead" consists of developing them "without...undermining the important achievements of the past".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

Correction, 21/05/99
In our article "EU warned of climate policy credibilitygap," published on 19 May, we reported that the EuropeanCommission had called on EU member states to tax aircraftfuel for domestic and intra-Community flights.  TheCommission's paper in fact stated only that its energyproducts tax proposal "would allow" member states to dothis.  Our thanks to Paul de Clerck of Friends of theEarth, the Netherlands, for pointing out this mistake.

Please sign in to access this article. To subscribe, view our subscription options, or take out a free trial.

Please enter your details

Forgotten password?

Having trouble signing in?

Contact Customer Support at
or call 020 8267 8120

Not a subscriber?

Take a free trial now to discover the critical insights and updates our coverage offers subscribers.