EU inches toward climate "burden share" deal

Austria and Netherlands hold out for lighter targets, guarantees on common EU measures

EU environment ministers are involved in intense negotiations in Luxembourg this evening aimed at agreeing how the Union should share its binding 8% greenhouse gas reduction commitment under the Kyoto climate change protocol between its member states. Only limited information is leaking out of the private discussions, but the Netherlands and Austria appear to represent the main obstacle to an agreement this evening.

Ministerial discussions began at a dinner last night, at which the UK presidency formally proposed new national targets (ENDS Daily 5 June). Though the UK's Michael Meacher had promised that ministers would "not leave the room" until a deal had been reached, the meeting ended at 10pm, with many participants having expressed dissatisfaction with the presidency's proposal, according to sources.

The presidency returned this morning with a new proposal that included a relaxation of several national targets. According to officials, Austria's would have to cut emissions of the six gases controlled under the Kyoto protocol by 19% between 1990 and 2008-2012 rather than 21%. Germany would have to cut emissions by 21.5% rather than 22.5% and the Netherlands by 7.5% rather than 8%.

Belgium and Luxembourg are also reported to have been offered less stringent cuts and Greece and Ireland more room for growth in emissions. Meanwhile, the UK has offered a further increase in the stringency of its national target, from 12% to 12.5%. According to officials, the new targets would achieve an aggregate cut in emissions for the whole of the EU of 8.5% rather than 8.9% in the presidency's first proposal.

Most countries appear now to be satisfied with the plan. However, environment ministers from Austria and the Netherlands have resisted their proposed shares and were still holding bilateral discussions with UK deputy prime minister John Prescott as this issue of ENDS Daily was published.

The Netherlands, which is holding out for a maximum cut of 6%, is also arguing that EU-wide measures to reduce emissions, such as an energy tax, should be made part of the national share-out deal. Denmark and Austria also support the principle of linking the national targets to the development of common and coordinated policies and measures (CCPMs). All three countries fear their competitiveness will be harmed if they unilaterally impose restrictions on emissions from industry and consumers, but the presidency is resisting pressure to put a CCPMs clause into the burden share agreement.

Many countries are reported to be urging the UK to further tighten its target, arguing that this should be made possible by the country's unilateral commitment to make a 20% cut in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas controlled under the Kyoto protocol.

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

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