WARSAW (Reuters) - Tackling climate change will help, not hinder, governments’ efforts to overcome the global financial crisis, the EU’s environment chief said on Tuesday.
The 27-nation European Union has set ambitious goals to curb carbon dioxide emissions by a fifth by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, partly by making power generators and heavy industry pay for permits to pollute in its emissions trading scheme.
Critics say the financial crisis makes it very difficult for industry to make the necessary big investments in clean energy.
“We think this (climate) package is consistent with solving the financial crisis... At the moment, people are focused on the economic crisis, but our package is part of the solution,” Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told reporters in Warsaw.
“Fighting climate change means investment in energy efficiency, promoting renewable sources and providing incentives to stimulate the economy and contribute to growth.”
The EU also argues that moving to a low-carbon economy will create jobs and reduce the bloc’s exposure to volatile prices of fossil fuels such as oil and coal which lead to global warming.
Poland and other ex-communist EU member states have expressed concern that carbon dioxide (CO2) curbs will stunt their economic growth by sharply increasing energy prices.
Asked if the Commission was willing to make amendments to its package, Dimas said: “It is not for the Commission to accept amendments, it’s for the European Council (of national governments) and for the European Parliament.”
“The package is just an instrument to achieve the climate change targets agreed by member states... The Commission can make changes which do not compromise the environmental objectives,” he added.
Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki said later on Tuesday his country still wanted changes in the climate package.
“Poland does not fear reducing emissions by 20 percent by 2020 but the way of achieving this is at present not acceptable (to us),” he told a news conference.
“So let’s not close the negotiations yet. Let’s negotiate further to achieve as good an EU climate accord as possible.”
Dimas said he was hopeful that France, the EU’s current chairman, could forge agreement among member states on the Commission’s climate package by the end of this year.
“This package is good for Europe because Europe’s economy will become more efficient,” he said.
Dimas was in Poland, along with representatives of dozens of other countries, for preparatory talks ahead of a planned U.N. conference in the western Polish city of Poznan in December that is meant to pave the way for a new global climate deal.
The current Kyoto Protocol, which does not set CO2 emission targets for major emerging economies such as China and India, expires in 2012. The United States has also not joined Kyoto.
Referring to this week’s talks in Warsaw, Dimas said: “Nobody has said we should cut down our efforts (because of financial crisis). They all said we should continue. We need to send a strong signal from Poznan on fighting climate change.”
The U.N.’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, said governments would need to show vision at the Poznan conference.
“There is a very strong sense that the focus of that (Poznan) discussion should be on their political vision for cooperative action going into the future,” he told the Warsaw news conference, adding that wealthy countries should commit to medium-term targets “meaning 2020” for cutting their emissions.
Editing by James Jukwey
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