Commission in volte face on EU climate target

Senior official predicts that EU will stabilise CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by 2000

The European Union will meet its target of stabilising carbon dioxide emissions by 2000, a senior European Commission official claimed yesterday, contradicting all recent predictions. Speaking at a press conference, Jørgen Henningsen surprised observers by saying that "all the indications are that carbon emissions will be significantly lower than previously estimated".

For industrialised countries, stabilisation of greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2000 is the first major requirement of the 1992 UN climate change convention. However, carbon dioxide emissions in industrialised countries as a whole are now up some 8% over 1990 levels.

Recent projections have all suggested the EU would fail to stabilise its carbon dioxide emissions by 2000 - damaging the credibility of its efforts to persuade all developed countries to agree to cut emissions of a basket of greenhouse gases by 7.5% in 2005 and 15% in 2010.

Last year, the European Environment Agency predicted that the EU would overshoot 1990 carbon dioxide emissions by 5% in 2000. This summer, the World Energy Council (WEC), which represents energy companies around the world, suggested the target would be missed by 8% (ENDS Daily 9 July). Even the Commission's energy directorate recently suggested a 2% overshoot.

Mr Henningsen now claims that new figures supplied to the Commission by EU member states paint a more optimistic picture. Germany looks set to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 12% by 2000, he said, mainly due to economic restructuring in its eastern states since reunification. The UK should cut its emissions by 6%, largely because of a shift in power generation from coal to gas, which emits about half as much carbon dioxide per unit of power generated as coal.

Since Germany and the UK accounted for about half of total EU carbon dioxide emissions in 1990, Mr Henningsen told ENDS Daily, stabilisation should be achieved even other EU countries increased emissions by a similar amount. In fact, France and Spain have also turned in better than expected performances, he said, further reducing the pressure.

Observers have met the Commission's new optimism with scepticism. Brussels-based environmental groups declared themselves "surprised" by the figures. The WEC suggested a "credibility gap" between the Commission's aspirations and reality.

"We don't think the EU is on course to meet the 2000 target," Michael Jefferson of the WEC told ENDS Daily today. "On the current trajectory, they will miss it by 6%." According to the WEC's calculations, German emissions of carbon dioxide were down only 8% on 1990 levels last year, and rose by 2% in 1996. UK emissions were only down 1% on 1990 levels. Even Germany and the UK are "struggling to meet the 2000 goal," Mr Jefferson said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: + 32 2 295 1111; World Energy Council, tel: +44 171 930 3966.

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