ROME (Reuters) - Italy will veto new European greenhouse gas limits for 2020 unless it gets concessions, its environment minister said on Tuesday, suggesting the EU might wait a year before adopting new climate change policies.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants a European Union summit he will chair next month to agree a 20 percent emissions cut, something the EU would use to press other countries for a new global treaty for when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has called the plan unrealistic and his environment minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, said Italy would reject it in its current form.
“The government has repeated on every possible occasion that we need a series of modifications, black on white. So far, not a single one of these modifications has been taken into consideration,” Prestigiacomo told Reuters in an interview.
“If there is this closed attitude to all our requests it should come as no surprise that this package will not get our support.”
Most EU diplomats believe Italy is posturing to try to eke out a better deal for its industry and that Berlusconi would not dare risk the stigma of torpedoing the EU’s long-held and self-declared role as global leader in climate change policy.
Without a deal at the December 11-12 Brussels summit, there is practically no chance the EU could agree in time for a climate change conference in December 2009 where the world is supposed to define a post-Kyoto treaty.
Prestigiacomo said it was not essential, perhaps not even desirable, for the 27-country EU to commit itself to a specific position ahead of the crunch talks in Denmark next year.
“The feeling is that some countries want Europe to go it alone and that this position could have a decisive impact at the Copenhagen talks. There are different points of view,” she said.
“Maybe it would be more opportune to wait for the result of the Copenhagen conference to have everyone better encouraged to go forward in a quicker way.”
A delay would also give Europe time to see how president-elect Barack Obama intends to put his green rhetoric into practice, she said.
Obama has promised to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. President George W. Bush, who pulled out of Kyoto soon after taking office, had foreseen a peak only in 2025.
“There’s no doubt from what Obama has said in recent days he is serious, that there will surely be, at the level of internal politics, a very strong commitment to reduce greenhouse gases,” Prestigiacomo said.
“However, there are two very different approaches. It’s one thing to say: ‘let’s make a change, let’s encourage investments in technological innovations’ ... It’s another to take on targets which are totally binding, with sanctions.”
The U.S. congress, even under the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, voted against Kyoto and its binding targets which committed the developed world to reduce emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990 levels by 2008-2012.
Prestigiacomo said she still hoped Italy could achieve its Kyoto target of a 6.5 percent reduction, despite being an estimated 13 percent above 1990 levels now — one of the worst performances in the EU.
But while Italy will try to “make up for lost time” by pursuing energy efficiency, renewable energy and, possibly, nuclear power, the economic crisis mean it was not the moment to burden industry with costly new environmental rules, she said.
One key concession Italy wants is to be able to continue to give industry free permits to emit carbon dioxide which they can then trade, rather than having to auction them, as is foreseen under an EU proposal.
Additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; Editing by Dominic Evans