EU climate talks yield little progress

Energy ministers fail to agree reference to economic instruments at quarterly meeting

Little progress was made on climate change issues at a meeting of energy ministers in Brussels yesterday. A spokesman for the Dutch presidency, as well as national diplomats expressed disappointment at the outcome of the meeting, at which energy ministers discussed the energy sector's contribution to meeting the EU's target of a 15% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010.

Ministers adopted a set of conclusions on climate change and energy policy, but were unable to resolve several problems. The result was "vague promises without commitments," according to one Council diplomat.

The Netherlands, supported by Scandinavian countries and Austria, had wanted to include a reference to economic instruments - such as energy taxes - in the list of EU measures to achieve climate change objectives. Greece, France and the UK objected, and finally succeeded in keeping any mention of energy taxes out of the conclusions. Dutch energy minister, Hans Wijers, told reporters after the Council that he was "disappointed that more progress hadn't been made on energy taxes".

A similar split emerged over whether to refer to the 15% target for greenhouse gas reductions, agreed by environment ministers in March (ENDS Daily 3 March). Nordic countries wanted to make an explicit reference. They were opposed by the UK, France and Germany.

The final text contains no mention of the objective, highlighting instead the "magnitude of the policy effort required" and the "strong and structural changes in the energy economy" needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A spokesperson for the Council of Ministers told ENDS Daily that a number of countries - including Austria, Finland and Sweden - had criticised the Council conclusions for not being "ambitious" enough and had accepted the final text "with a bleeding heart".

The final list of "common and coordinated measures" agreed by energy ministers is almost identical to that adopted by environment ministers in March. However, rather than calling for the measures to be introduced, the Council's conclusions merely lists a number of policies "under study". These include programmes on renewable energy and cogeneration, long term agreements with industry on improving energy efficiency and a commitment to progressively reduce and remove fossil fuel subsidies.

Yesterday's meeting made progress in some of these areas. A resolution adopted on renewable energy calls for "regulatory measures" and "special tariffs" to promote renewable energy. However, the UK, France and Germany opposed any specific commitment to increasing the share of renewables to 12% by 2010 as proposed by the European Commission. The final resolution simply refers to the target as of "useful guidance".

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

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