Austria lags as EU 15 over-achieves on climate

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Austria is performing worse than any other major European economy in cutting emissions of climate-warming gases, European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said on Thursday.

But 15 long-standing EU member states are on track to outperform their combined target of cutting carbon dioxide by 8 percent under the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol.

“Austria is the one country that according to projections will not achieve its individual target,” Dimas told reporters. “The government needs to take the additional measures necessary to bring emissions down.”

Austria will overshoot its Kyoto target by 12.9 percent even if it uses all the carbon offsetting mechanisms available, EU data shows. EU officials blamed Austria’s failure on internal bickering. The government only decided its strategy for cutting emissions in 2007, after 5 years of talks.

Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain are also set to overshoot their Kyoto goals in terms of actual emissions, but offsetting will bring them back in line, EU data shows.

The 15 EU countries which were member states when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed are on track to cut emissions to 6.9 percent below 1990 by the 2008-2012 measurement period, short of their 8 percent goal, but offsetting will take them to a cut of around 9 percent.

Carbon offsetting allows companies, governments or individuals to pay for emissions cuts elsewhere, usually in poorer countries where such cuts are cheaper.

Further measures such as reforestation programs will take them to around 13 percent.

The Kyoto Protocol is due to expire in 2012, and world leaders will meet in December in Copenhagen to decide a replacement agreement. But many some have questioned whether there is sufficient time to agree a strong deal.

“I do not share this opinion,” said Dimas. “I expect we are going to have a significant agreement in Copenhagen. There is too much pessimism around.”

He called for rich countries, such as Japan and the United States, to follow the EU’s lead by committing to emissions cuts that would put them on track for a combined reduction of 30 percent by 2020.

“We are not dogmatic and we should be flexible when we negotiate,” he added.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso earlier called on world leaders to join him at Copenhagen, and Dimas echoed that call.

“Everybody who can make a difference should be there,” he said.

Reporting by Pete Harrison; Editing by Keiron Henderson