EU reaches climate deal at last

15 December 2008

EU leaders reached an eleventh hour agreement on 12 December, the final day of the so-called ‘crunch’ summit in Brussels, on plans designed to solve what many believe are the two biggest problems Europe is facing. They formulated a 200 billion euro plan to dig Europe out of recession, and a package to combat global warming.

The 27 national leaders agreed to club together to fund an economic stimulus package and commit huge funds to making major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the deal on climate change was only sealed after negotiations that stretched on into the afternoon, UK prime minister Gordon Brown said there had been unanimous agreement on the need for a joint assault on the economic slowdown.

Copies of a draft agreement due to be signed at the end of the summit showed the leaders would commit themselves at its conclusion to warding off the threat of a ‘recessionary spiral’.

"In these exceptional circumstances, Europe will act in a united, strong, rapid and decisive manner to avoid a recessionary spiral and sustain economic activity and employment," the draft conclusion said.

Under the stimulus plan, member countries would pump on average the equivalent of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) into their economies in order to temper the impact of a global recession. This was a revised version of original wording that had referred to ‘at least 1.5% of GDP”. Germany had previously expressed reservations about ploughing so much public money into the economy and resisted pressure to contribute more than what it judged necessary to get the German economy going again.

But diplomats said that the leaders had agreed on a climate package which they hope will become a model for the rest of the world. The deal is in pursuit of the EU's climate-energy package, the ‘20-20-20’ deal, which seeks to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, make 20 percent energy savings and bring renewable energy sources up to 20 percent of total energy use.

But the deal was only agreed after days of tense negotiations among EU members over the mid-term emissions reduction target, part of a row within the EU that has overshadowed UN climate negotiations in Poznan, and undermined the trading bloc's credibility among developing countries.

There was a sense of relief among many delegates that at least the 2020 emissions reduction target had remained intact.

Under pressure from heavy industry back home, dissenting countries, led by Germany, called for major concessions to help them meet strict emissions cuts. Campaigners say that this has weakened the deal and are particularly concerned about the size of the allowable emissions off-set, and the degree to whcih carbon credits represent real reductions. WWF UK's Head of Climate Change, Keith Allott, commented ‘Europe needs to reduce emissions at home but under the EU agreement, off-setting companies that want to build coal fired power stations can carry on building".

Meanwhile, although the negotiations in Poznan have managed to resolve issues over the UN Adaptation Fund, which is now operational, many campaign groups believe the talks have achieved very little. Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said: "The climate talks have fizzled out with no progress on the big decisions. We are on a countdown to catastrophic climate change - yet the developed world is ignoring the ticking clock. There is now a plan to make decisions in 2009 but a radical quickening in pace is urgently required.’ Maybe that will happen at next year's conference in Copenhagen.

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