EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard this morning welcomed the new Kyoto protocol to the UN climate change convention as and an "important first step" in efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Following frantic last minute negotiations, "the EU has managed to pull the USA and Japan up from very low [reduction] targets...with substantial loopholes, to more credible targets with safeguards to help to ensure that reported reductions in emissions are genuine," the commissioner said.
The EU has agreed to reduce emissions by 8% by 2010 rather than the 15% negotiating target it went to Kyoto with. However, Ms Bjerregaard stressed that an 8% cut based on six gases as agreed in the protocol was equivalent to a 13% cut in emissions of the three gases originally proposed by the EU. "The outcome now is close to the original EU position and must be regarded as satisfactory," she concluded.
EU governments have also broadly welcomed the Kyoto outcome, though several have yet to make a response. UK deputy prime minister John Prescott described Kyoto as a "truly historic deal which will help curb the problems of climate change". Noel Dempsey, Irish environment minister, said it was a "credible" outcome, while Margaretha de Boer of the Netherlands said she was "satisfied" with the result.
French environment minister Dominique Voynet said the result was "very positive" and represented "significant new progress" for global environmental protection. By presenting a united front at Kyoto, she continued, the EU had "not only demonstrated a clear understanding of the risks, but also its capacity to overcome the resistance of numerous countries".
Environmental groups, in contrast, are much less happy with the result, with the main criticisms focusing on the level of emissions cuts required and "loopholes" such as the allowance of emissions trading.
Most critical of the deal was Greenpeace, which labelled the deal "a tragedy and a farce" because it would "result in no real reductions from 1990 [emissions] levels and would allow "some of the world's largest polluters...to increase their fossil fuel emissions". The deal "provides absolutely no protection" from global warming, the group said, and called on the EU to unilaterally commit to cutting emissions of all six gases by 15% as a minimum.
Friends of the Earth and Climate Network Europe both warned that the Kyoto compromise could well see industrialised country emissions increase. "In reality, industrialised countries have seen already a decline of emissions by 4.6% between 1990 and today. This means that they have committed themselves to reduce emissions by only another meagre 0.6% within the next 15 years," said Climate Network Europe.
Along with other environmental groups, the European Environmental Bureau sounded an alarm over the prospect of the USA and Japan buying emissions credits from Russia and Ukraine rather making domestic emissions cuts, but was otherwise less critical of the deal. The coalition described the protocol as "historic" and credited EU environment ministers with "pushing the USA and Japan in particular towards positions they had no intention to take when they arrived at the conference".
European industry groups are mostly still digesting the results. Those prepared to comment criticised the differentiation agreed between industrialised countries and the lack of any emissions limitation requirements for more advanced developing countries as a potential threat to European business. "We would have been more pleased with a lower [emissions reduction] commitment," Camille Blum of the Association of European Car Manufacturers told ENDS Daily, "but one of the main problems...is that we should not be alone in the world."
"Any agreement should be global and not put Europe into a disadvantaged position," said Maarten Labberton of the European Aluminium Association. "There is concern about some developing countries...some of which have considerable primary aluminium production."
Sounding relatively happy with the protocol, meanwhile, Caroline Walcot of the European Roundtable of Industrialists told ENDS Daily that the emissions cuts agreed were "reasonable". "It is a very good outcome for the EU," she said, "because we know we can deliver." The group's main concern now, Ms Walcot continued, was to continue to promote voluntary initiatives by industry as a means of delivering emissions cuts.
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