Climate talks to be focus of EU ministerial

Governments attempt to agree common line on emissions trading for Buenos Aires talks

A row over climate change policy will be the main focus of next week's quarterly meeting of EU environment ministers, according to government officials. Ministers will try to agree an EU line on how to regulate the use of Kyoto protocol "flexible mechanisms" after working groups of officials failed to resolve the issue.

This is the last scheduled EU ministerial meeting before all UN climate change convention parties meet in Buenos Aires in November. Detailed rules on how the Kyoto protocol should be implemented will be a key topic of discussion, and the EU is under pressure to achieve a common position. Failure to do so next week would be "very bad," one national official told ENDS Daily, and would make the EU look "untrustworthy" in Buenos Aires.

Still on the table on Tuesday will be an Austrian presidency proposal that the EU argue for all industrialised countries to limit the use of flexibility mechanisms by use of a clear quantitative cap (ENDS Daily 4 September). This should be 50% for countries committed to reducing emissions and just 2.5% for countries stabilising or allowed to increase. Only three other countries - Germany, Denmark and Luxembourg - support this approach.

The other main strand of opinion, which has majority backing, is for the EU to advocate a complicated-sounding approach of limiting flexible mechanisms by "taking into account quantitative and/or qualitative criteria," which should include "early domestic actions to demonstrate progress". Belgium, Finland, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the UK support this approach.

What these different approaches would mean in practice remains unclear at this point. All EU countries will "reaffirm" on Tuesday that there should be a "concrete ceiling" on the use of flexible mechanisms, implying that the approach now favoured by the majority would not mean weakening the EU's opposition to widespread emissions trading becoming a "loophole" in the protocol.

But proponents of a quantitative cap describe the commitment to a concrete ceiling as a "fig leaf" behind which EU countries are hiding a real change in their attitude to emissions trading. Unless the protocol clearly states that a majority of commitments must be made through domestic action, these countries say, then this will not be achieved and the protocol will be damaged.

NGOs and the European Parliament both support this line. "A quantitative cap is concrete, a qualitative one is not," said Delia Villagrassa of environmental group Climate Network Europe. However, Austria and its small band of allies look unlikely to win the other countries over. "We know that our opportunities are rather dim," an official from a pro-presidency position country said.

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

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