EU told to be bolder on carbon emissions

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Series Details 20.12.07
Publication Date 20/12/2007
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The EU must be bolder in tackling carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from road transport if it wants to combat climate change, according to the US ambassador to the European Union.

Ambassador C. Boyden Gray said that legislation just approved by the US Congress to improve vehicle fuel efficiency was more ambitious than European legislation. Referring to the Energy Independence and Security Act, which seeks to improve fuel efficiency by 40% by 2020, Gray said: "This is more aggressive than anything Europe has proposed."

The act also foresees a five-fold increase in the use of US-grown biofuels by 2022.

Gray said that the bill, which was passed into law by President George W. Bush yesterday (19 December), was a "big commitment" by the US and would lead to a 20% reduction in the use of gasoline, through a combination of increased efficiency and use of biofuels.

The ambassador said that the EU should include transport in its emissions trading scheme (ETS). "Most people I talk to know what they have to do to fix it [the ETS] but they are quite determined not to include transportation apart from airlines," he said. Gray said that the US still did not understand why aviation should be included as it represented a small part of global CO2 emissions.

Commission officials said that they had ruled out including road transport in the revised ETS in proposals expected on 23 January because fuel in the EU was already heavily taxed. "It makes no sense to include transport," one official said.

The official said that the US performance on fuel efficiency was way behind that of the EU, adding that calls to include road transport in the ETS were a "distraction" from Washington’s opposition to including aviation in the scheme.

EU environment ministers are expected to agree today (20 December) to include aviation in the ETS from 2012.

The Commission yesterday published proposals to penalise carmakers that do not meet targets to reduce emissions from new cars.

Gray, who attended the United Nations conference on climate change in Bali, which ended last Saturday (15 December), said that the prospect of the US signing up to a new global agreement including precise targets for reducing CO2 emissions would depend on firm and comparable commitments from major developing countries such as China and India. He rejected suggestions that there would be a major shift in the US position when a new president was elected. "There’s less partisanship than meets the eye," he said. "It’s good politics for the Democrats to suggest that. You have to take into account what Senator [John] Kerry said: ‘Unless there are significant developing country commitments it won’t go through any Congress whatever party." Kerry led the US Senate delegation to Bali.

Referring to a bill currently before the House to cut US emissions by 50% by 2050, Gray said: "The Warner-Lieberman bill does talk about comparable cuts from developing countries. That’s tougher than what our negotiating position became towards the end [at Bali]. The Bali result is less aggressive than the bill."

Nicholas Stern, the economist who drafted a report on climate change for the UK government, writing in European Voice this week, argues that rich countries will have to reduce their emissions by at least 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels, or pay the equivalent compensation.

Gray said that he expected an increase in calls for the EU to impose penalty tariffs on imports of products from countries which did not sign up to climate change measures.

"The European attitude will converge towards the US attitude," he said, pointing out that there were increasing demands for restrictions on imports from developing countries such as China in the US.

Writing in European Voice this week, Stavros Dimas, the European commissioner for the environment, said that next year’s climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, would have to adjust the negotiations to a clearer picture about the contributions from developing countries and from the US.

The EU must be bolder in tackling carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from road transport if it wants to combat climate change, according to the US ambassador to the European Union.

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