By Barbara Lewis and Alastair Macdonald
European Union leaders struck a deal on a new target to cut carbon emissions out to 2030, calling it a new global standard but leaving critics warning that compromises had undermined the fight against climate change.
Talks in Brussels stretched into the small hours of Friday as Poland battled to spare its coal industry and other states tweaked the guideline text on global warming to protect varied economic interests, from nuclear plants and cross-border power lines to farmers whose livestock belch out polluting methane.
In the end, an overall target was agreed for the 28-nation bloc to cut its emissions of carbon in 2030 by at least 40 per cent from levels in the benchmark year of 1990. An existing goal of a 20-per cent cut by 2020 has already been nearly met.
EU leaders called the 40-per cent target an ambitious signal to the likes of the United States and China to follow suit at a UN climate summit France is hosting in December next year.
“Europe is setting an example,” French President Francois Hollande said, acknowledging that it had been a hard-won compromise but calling the final deal “very ambitious”.
“Ultimately, this is about survival,” said summit chair Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council.
But environmentalists had already complained that the deal could still leave the EU struggling to make the at least 80-percent cut by 2050 that its own experts say is needed to limit the rise in global average temperatures to two degrees Celsius.
Natalia Alonso of Oxfam welcomed the 40-per cent goal but said: “(It) falls far too short of what the EU needs to do to pull its weight in the fight against climate change. Insufficient action like this from the world’s richest countries places yet more burden on the poorest people most affected by climate change, but least responsible for causing this crisis.”
The European Union accounts for about a tenth of world greenhouse gas emissions and has generally done more than other major industrial powers to curb the gases blamed for global warming.
But Green campaigners said Friday’s deal signalled the EU was becoming less ambitious.
Aside from the headline emissions goals, they were disappointed by a softening in the final agreement of targets for increasing the use of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources and for improving efficiency through measures such as insulation and cleaner engines.
Diplomats said bargaining by Poland’s new prime minister Eva Kopacz, who faces an election next year, secured a complex set of financial incentives. They include free allowances in the EU system for trading carbon emissions to soften the impact of the target on Polish coal miners and the coal-fired power stations on which its 38 million people depend.
Concerns in Britain and some smaller states about additional EU regulation that might, for example, crimp a new expansion of emissions-free but controversial nuclear power, saw targets for increased use of renewable energy and for energy efficiency softened.
Van Rompuy said the two targets would be for at least 27 per cent. They would also only apply across the bloc as a whole, unlike the broad 40-percent target that binds each state individually.
Renewable energy sources produce about 14 percent of the EU’s energy at present.
Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth said: “This deal does nothing to end Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels or to speed up our transition to a clean energy future. It’s a deal that puts dirty industry interests ahead of citizens and the planet.”
Some industrialists have complained that EU climate regulations risk discouraging business and investment in the bloc at a time when its faltering economy can ill afford to lose it. But others, echoed by EU officials on Friday, see changes in energy use as an opportunity to develop new industries.
Portugal and Spain succeeded in getting a harder target for the level of cross-border connections, something they had been pushing France to accept so that they could export more of their spare energy across France and to the rest of the continent.
In the middle of a confrontation with Russia over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine conflict, the EU also took the opportunity to set out strategic objectives for “energy security” – code for reducing its heavy reliance on Russian natural gas.