EU climate pact seen aiding shift from Russia gas

OSLO (Reuters) - Creation of green jobs and a drive to cut reliance on Russian gas should help convince the European Union to agree a climate deal this year despite fears of a world economic slowdown, Denmark’s Climate and Energy Minister said.

Birds fly next to a power plant near the the eastern German town of Leipzig in this December 6, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Connie Hedegaard said approval by EU leaders of a package of measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 would brighten prospects for a U.N. climate deal meant to be agreed in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

“I’m sure a compromise will be found” to enable EU leaders to agree the package in December, she told Reuters by telephone. “It may not be very beautiful, but I’m confident.”

EU leaders aim to agree the measures, which include getting 20 percent of power from renewable energy by 2020, even though nations such as Poland and Italy worry about the costs of shifting from fossil fuels and possible job losses.

Hedegaard said failure would mean Europe could get left behind in a global shift to new jobs, for instance in renewable energies such as solar or wind power.

More and more governments realize that “it’s very bad for the whole of Europe if we protect the industries of yesterday instead of preparing the responses that will make us rich tomorrow,” she said.

And she said East European nations would benefit from energy efficiency, cuts in use of fossil fuels that emit heat-trapping gases when burned, and a diversification of supplies.

“Many European countries have a strategic priority to be less dependent on gas from Russia ... that has a high priority for Eastern European countries which are among the most skeptical looking at this package,” she said.


She predicted that nations would soon return to address global warming after the shock of financial turmoil. The U.N. Climate Panel warns that climate change could bring more droughts, heatwaves, spread disease and raise ocean levels.

She said that the Czech Republic, which will take on the rotating EU presidency from France in January, had signaled no interest in inheriting such a complex package unfinished. Hedegaaard was visiting the Czech Republic on Friday.

She also said it was a “million dollar question” whether the next U.S. administration would be ready to promise clear targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions at the Copenhagen talks.

More than 190 nations agreed last year to agree a broad new international accord in Copenhagen to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which binds just 37 developed nations to cut emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

They also agreed rich nations would have to make “comparable” efforts, a potential tripwire in U.S.-EU ties since U.S. emissions are running about 14 percent above 1990 levels and President George W. Bush foresees a peak only in 2025.

Bush rejected Kyoto as too costly and unfair for omitting 2012 goals for developing nations. Both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain have promised to do far more but no legislation outlining cuts has succeeded in Congress.

“This area...would be a very obvious and attractive area” for a new president to stress a difference with Bush and take quick action, Hedegaard said. China and the United States are the top two emitters of greenhouse gases.

She expressed guarded optimism for Copenhagen, saying that it was becoming a chance for governments to prove they can act on a major challenge despite worries about recession.

Editing by Alister Doyle