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Don't Neglect Climate Goals, EU's Barroso Urges Leaders

The European Union should strengthen its fight against global warming, not weaken it in the face of the financial crisis, the head of the EU's executive said on Tuesday, Oct. 13 ahead of a major EU summit in Brussels.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

European Commission President Barroso urged the EU not to forget its commitments

"Of course we understand that in financially difficult moments governments become defensive, but it is our duty to call the attention of governments and the public to responsibility," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told journalists.

The EU has been "driving" the global climate debate, but there will be a "real problem of credibility for Europe at a time when we expect others to come closer to our position" if the bloc weakens its own targets, he warned.

In March 2007 EU leaders pledged to cut the bloc's emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2, the gas most linked with global warming) to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. In January, the European Commission proposed laws detailing how this should be done.

The proposals call on member states to accept binding targets for cutting non-industrial emissions and commits heavy industries to buying permits to emit CO2 in a bid to make it cost-effective for them to invest in clean technology.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Wednesday had been tipped to re-state their commitment to the targets in an effort to maintain diplomatic leverage ahead of international talks in December.

Leaders criticize targets in current financial climate

But in the wake of the financial crisis, some member states, such as Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland, have criticized the targets, saying that the climate-change package would drive businesses bust or force them to leave Europe.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

Barroso wants emission cuts to encourage others

Barroso rejected that criticism, instead making an impassioned plea to EU states to back the emissions cuts as a way of persuading other major economies to follow suit.

"If the message from the EU here is that climate change is no longer urgent, that would be the end of the global effort," he said.

EU officials say they hope member states will approve the commission climate-change proposals in December.

Also on Tuesday, environmental groups Greenpeace and WWF called on EU leaders to stick to their climate commitments.

"It would be a big strategic error to backslide because of the economic downturn at such a critical moment. Everyone should have learned from today's financial crisis that there are serious consequences for lack of early regulation," WWF climate expert Delia Villagrasa wrote.

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