EU climate chief wants Europe to "lead by example"

BRUSSELS Tue Mar 9, 2010 12:20pm EST

European Climate Action Commissioner-designate Connie Hedegaard of Denmark answers reporters' questions after her hearing before the European Parliament Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee in Brussels January 15, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

European Climate Action Commissioner-designate Connie Hedegaard of Denmark answers reporters' questions after her hearing before the European Parliament Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee in Brussels January 15, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Thierry Roge

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's new climate chief sought to reinvigorate international climate talks on Tuesday, laying out a strategy for the EU to lead the world by example.

With talks blocked by inaction in the United States, the global economic crisis and mounting skepticism over climate science, Connie Hedegaard said the EU would demonstrate how to meet its green goals while creating jobs and boosting economies.

"The EU must continue to take leadership," she told the European Parliament. "The most convincing way Europe can do so is by taking tangible and determined action domestically to become the most climate-friendly region in the world."

The EU sought to take the lead in climate talks last year but was frustrated at the Copenhagen climate summit by mistrust among poor nations and between China and the United States. Hedegaard said Europe needed to show leadership again.

"It is in Europe's own interest," she said. "If we do it intelligently, it will enhance our competitiveness, strengthen our energy security, stimulate green economic growth and innovation, and by that we will create new jobs."

The plan will also strengthen energy security, she said, pointing to the EU's "Europe 2020" strategy, which aims to cut 60 billion euros ($81.6 billion) from the cost of the bloc's oil and gas imports over the next decade.

Hedegaard's team has started an analysis of what it would take to deepen planned emissions cuts to beyond 20 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade.

"It's not going to be easy ... to go to 30 percent," she said. "Nobody should be naive. We should look after our own industries and we should know what we are doing."

The possible move to 30 percent has caused rancor among the EU's 27 countries, with Poland and Italy worried about the cost, and Britain keen to take on the challenge. The strategy appears to drop previous conditions that 30 percent will only be targeted if other countries take similar steps.

"We need to be raising our ambition level beyond the current targets," British government climate adviser John Ashton told Reuters. "We need to show there need not be a conflict between being an early mover in the transition to low carbon and having an economy that is recovering strongly."

A Commission report backing Hedegaard's announcement stressed the need to tackle loopholes in international climate laws that could actually lead to an increase in rich countries' climate-warming emissions by as much as 2.6 percent.

"Environmental integrity must be our watch-word in the negotiations," she said. "The shortcomings have to be addressed."

The report also laid out a roadmap for international climate talks, tempering EU ambitions for a summit in Cancun, Mexico this year. A legally-binding treaty may only emerge in 2011, it said.

"From what we see and hear, it's not that likely this year," Hedegaard told Reuters. "But I think many deliverables could be reached by Cancun."

(Reporting by Pete Harrison)

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