BRUSSELS -- While pleased with "encouraging signs" from Washington on global warming, the European Union is urging the Obama administration to adopt midterm targets for greenhouse gas reductions.
Stavros Dimas, E.U. commissioner for environment, found President Obama's pledge to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050 -- as well as Obama's decision to create a cap-and-trade system and to earmark in his budget funds from the auctioning of that system -- "encouraging."
"That's very interesting, very encouraging, because it shows the determination of President Obama to go ahead with fighting climate change," he said. Dimas also said he approved of the Obama administration's determination to work within a U.N. framework.
"But this means that [the Americans] also have to put midterm targets on the table. They still have some time to do it, but it has to be done if we're to have a ratifiable agreement in Copenhagen," said Dimas. "We called for a 30 percent reduction from developed countries as a group. For the United States, it could be more, or it could be less."
"It appears that the ambitions of the United States administration are very high," added the E.U. commissioner, insisting that the European Union "is leading the world" in the fight against climate change. "Although President Obama is speaking about leadership, leadership without an ambitious midterm target cannot be achieved."
Dimas was speaking last night at a press conference following a very long one-day meeting of environment ministers from the 27 E.U. member states, in Brussels.
"We asked other developed countries to come up with their midterm targets," added Martin Bursík at the same press conference. Bursík, the Czech Republic's deputy prime minister and minister of the environment, chaired yesterday's environment ministers' meeting.
How to finance Europe's plans remains to be decided
Dimas, Bursík and other European officials will travel to Washington March 14-15 to meet various top level American officials in charge of climate change policy. Climate will also be on the agenda when Obama travels to Prague in April.
Yesterday, during their marathon meeting, the environment ministers discussed the proposals the European Commission published Jan. 28 regarding the European Union's position for the Copenhagen summit on climate change. That summit is expected to lead to a global agreement that will come into force when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
The environment ministers' conclusions will serve as a basis for the European Council of heads of state and government that will take place March 19-20.
Before then, however, on March 10, E.U. finance ministers will have to forge a consensus on the funding of climate measures and on assistance to be provided to poor countries to help them adapt to the consequences of global warming.
The reason? According to Dimas, environment ministers "were not quite able" to come to a consensus on financing mechanisms yesterday. "This is an issue where the council needs more discussion time and which must be taken to the highest level," he said. "I am confident that the European Council of heads of state and government will reach a satisfactory conclusion."
The commission's proposal explains how industrialized and less-developed countries can share the burden of bringing down greenhouse gas emissions among countries and how to finance adaptation measures, especially in poor, less-developed countries.
Europe's interim goal: minus 30% by 2020
The European Union's overall goal is to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The commission believes that global emissions need, therefore, to peak before 2020 and then be cut to less than 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 -- which will require action by both developed and developing countries.
The commission insists that developed countries must take the lead and cut their collective greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. Irrespective of any international agreement, the European Union is already committed to a 20 percent reduction in its emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2020. It says it is willing to go further and "sign up to a 30 percent reduction target" if other developed countries make comparable reductions and developing countries make "appropriate contributions."
The commission adds that developing countries, except the poorest ones, should limit growth in their collective emissions to 15-30 percent below business as usual levels by 2020. This, it says, should include a rapid decrease in emissions from tropical deforestation.
According to independent estimates quoted by the European Union, global net additional investment may need to rise to about €175 billion per year by 2020 to reduce emissions. More than half of this would be needed in developing countries.
"Up to 2020 the bulk of actions in these countries will have low costs -- or even benefits -- and should be financed domestically," adds the commission. "International financial support for actions exceeding a country's domestic capabilities should come from sources including public funds and international carbon crediting mechanisms."
More international funding 'based on the polluter pays principle'
The European Union's executive body says it believes a Copenhagen agreement should also provide a framework to help countries adapt to the consequences of climate change: "even if the temperature increase stays below 2°C there will still be a need for significant adaptation efforts by all countries."
"All developed and developing countries should be required to elaborate national adaptation strategies. Support for adaptation should be provided to the most vulnerable least developed countries and small island developing states," argues the commission.
The European Union should therefore "explore potential innovative sources of international funding based on the polluter pays principle and the ability to pay," and E.U. member states "could also use part of their future revenues from auctioning allowances under the E.U. Emissions Trading System to support developing countries."