EU post-Kyoto climate talks get underway

Member states begin intensive discussions to agree new greenhouse gas reduction framework

Working parties of EU member state officials have begun intensive negotiations on climate change following last year's Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (ENDS Daily 11 December 1997).

Under the Kyoto protocol, the EU is committed to achieve an aggregate 8% cut in emissions of six greenhouse gases by the period 2008-2012, rather than the 15% cut in the main three gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) by 2010, that it proposed for all industrialised countries in the run-up to Kyoto.

As detailed discussions have begun only in the last weeks, the outlines of a new post-Kyoto position on climate change remain very unclear. However, sources contacted by ENDS Daily agree on the main issues being tackled by negotiators.

The first is what aggregate emissions reduction target the EU should adopt. Environmental groups want the EU to maintain its original 15% target, but there appears to be little official enthusiasm for going beyond 8%. Nevertheless, some insiders expect the issue to reassert itself as the negotiations progress. "The EU's [international] credibility is up for grabs," one told ENDS Daily.

Fixing on an aggregate target is complicated by the addition at Kyoto of three industrial gases (hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride). According to EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard, the EU will have to cut emissions of the main three gases by 13% to achieve an aggregate 8% reduction. All other sources contacted by ENDS Daily disagree, pointing to at most a 10% or 11% required cut.

Some environmentalists fear that the required cut in carbon dioxide implied by the 8% aggregate target may even be less than 8%, because the three new industrial gases might be phased out much more rapidly than foreseen under "business as usual" scenarios.

A second issue taxing the EU is how to revise its March 1997 "burden sharing" agreement, under which member states agreed differentiated obligations designed to meet an overall reduction of 10%. Sources expect a new agreement to be mostly based on the old one rather than completely redrawn, though some governments are worried by lack of information on emissions of the three industrial gases.

A third issue on the agenda is defining "common and coordinated policies and measures" for greenhouse gas reduction to be agreed at EU level. According to one source, little change is expected to an outline set put forward last year. However, plenty of room remains for disagreement, with some member states remaining strongly opposed to harmonised fiscal measures while progressive, smaller countries see little hope of achieving national targets without strong common measures.

Overshadowing the intra-EU discussions is the international agenda, with negotiations due to restart this summer and deep political disagreements remaining over many issues. At the top of the EU's priorities, according to sources, is to clarify the various "flexibility" clauses included in the Kyoto protocol, such as emissions trading, carbon sinks and the clean development mechanism for developing countries.

The first official results of EU discussions are expected at the March meeting of environment ministers, with more contentious issues left until June.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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