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Whither Europe on emissions?

A policeman and a firefighter talk to Greenpeace activists on a lifting ramp in front of the Polish Ministry of Economy in Warsaw, where the Coal and Climate Summit took place in November.

Is Europe blowing hot and cold over climate change?

The European Union has been in the forefront of the campaign against global warming, but its latest climate plan has been attacked for being much weaker than it should be. Some scientists say that by 2030, the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent of 1990 levels if it is to avert a catastrophe. Europe is proposing a 40 percent cut instead.

"Although it’s better than doing nothing at all, it’s not an awful lot better,” says Dr. Doug Parr of Greenpeace,”The leadership that Europe has displayed up to now is slipping back."

Other campaigners are concerned about Europe’s new target for renewable energy use. It commits the EU to producing around a quarter of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030. But the target is for Europe as a whole, and is not binding for each of the 28 individual member states. 

"Some member states will be more virtuous, and some will be less virtuous," says Monica Frassoni of the European Alliance to Save Energy. She believes the member states will bicker over this commitment, the target will be hard to enforce, and that won’t encourage companies to invest and innovate.

"The combined effect will be much less development and research of technologies on energy efficiency and renewables," says Frassoni.

The European Commissioner for Climate Action defended her targets. Connie Hedegaard said that in these tough economic times ,the Europeans would have rejected a more stringent and ambitious plan. She pointed out that Europe still leads the world in climate action, lamenting the fact that other big economies had not followed Europe’s example by adopting emissions targets.

"That should be telling the Europeans something," argues James Sproule of Britain’s Institute of Directors.He says no one else wants to sacrifice economic growth in the name of saving the planet. And he says the new, softer targets are a sign that Europe’s enthusiasm for climate action is also waning.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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