EU's energy plan to curb emissions

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 10:29 p.m.

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Union on Wednesday announced plans to lower energy consumption, develop renewable sources such as wind power and biofuels and increase research into cutting carbon emissions from fuels already in use, particularly coal. The ambitious proposals seek to deter growing dependence on oil and gas imports and curb the emissions blamed for climate change.

But the EU left the contentious issue of nuclear power up to each state to decide.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Europe must embrace a low-carbon economy and lead the world into a "post-industrial revolution."

Those proposals have taken on new urgency as Europe has seen its oil and gas supplies disrupted by disputes between Russia — which provides one quarter of its natural gas — and the nations the supplies pass through on their way to Germany, Poland and other countries.

"Europe must lead the world into a new ... post-industrial revolution, the development of a low-carbon economy," Barroso said. "We need new policies to face a new reality," he said.

The package reflects a renewed sense of purpose evident in the EU during the past year, after a period of disarray caused by the rejection of the bloc's proposed constitution by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Climate change is at the center of the new policy, stressing the need to slash carbon emissions blamed for global warming — a matter of dispute between Europe and the U.S. Barroso said he had talked to President Bush and congressional leaders about the issue.

"We are not speaking about European warming, we are speaking about global warming," he said. "We need the United States with us, they are after all the biggest polluter in the world."

The United States has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrial nations to cut their global-warming gases by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The Bush administration contends that would slow its economy, and the accord should have required cuts by poorer but fast-growing nations, such as China and India.

Environment ministers of the EU's 27 nations will debate the new strategy on Feb. 20, with EU leaders set to vote on the plan at a March summit.

"As soon as we have the endorsement, we will act swiftly," Barroso said.

The EU is currently the world's largest importer of oil and gas. It buys 82 percent of its oil and 57 percent of its gas from third-party states. This is projected to rise to 93 percent of its oil and 84 percent of its gas over the next quarter-century.

Russia is a large supplier, but concerns about the reliability of those supplies were underscored this week when shipments of Russian oil via a pipeline running through Belarus were disrupted by a trade dispute between the two former Soviet republics.

"We consider it unacceptable, this kind of event," Barroso said. "We will make this very clear to our Russian and other partners."

He would not comment on reports that Russia and Belarus had resolved their dispute.

Surging world demand for limited stocks of oil and gas is likely to send prices — and the EU's energy import costs — spiraling in future decades.

The EU is proposing that 20 percent of all its energy should come from renewable power by 2020, and a tenth of vehicle fuel from biofuels. It calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by at least 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to limit global warming and prevent serious damage caused by climate change.

EU Energy chief Andris Piebalgs said the EU wants to set binding targets for the first time, suggesting a massive boost in low-carbon, homegrown power such as wind and solar energy to cut reliance of imported fossil fuels.

The European Commission will invest 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) over the next six years for research into renewable energies. It will increase research into cleaning up coal-burning power plants and developing technologies prevent carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere.

Priority will be given to improving energy efficiency so that vehicles, appliances, homes, and factories burn less fuel — using methods ranging from improved insulation to cleaner engines. The EU hopes that plan alone can ensure it burns 13 percent less energy by 2020, with annual savings of 100 billion euros ($130 billion) and around 860 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Barroso said the EU's executive arm would respect the right of each nation to determine its own course.

"It's not up to us to tell the member states whether in their energy mix they should have more or less nuclear or none at all," he said. "What is important is to make progress toward an economy that is less dependent on carbon."

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