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Europe

EU Cities Commit to Climate Package, But Challenges Lay Ahead

Fighting global warming can happen one city at a time. This is the belief of those who signed up to the EU's new climate package. Now, those cities who pledged to slash their CO2 are facing the reality of their promise.

A sign displaying the start of the new 'Emission Zone' just outside London

London is one of the EU cities committed to reducing its CO2 levels by 20 percent by 2020

Almost 100 European cities committed themselves recently to the European Union's campaign to fight global warming. The Covenant of Mayors, as the plan has been dubbed, commits the city councils involved to cutting emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) by more than 20 percent by 2020.

London, Berlin, Venice and Warsaw are among the cities that have signed up to the pledge which goes one better than a promise made by the EU's national governments in March 2007 to cut their CO2 emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

The initiative, to be coordinated by the EU's executive, the European Commission, is expected to help cities share ideas on how best to fight global warming.

"Cities are becoming the places to deliver new ideas and innovative projects against global warming ... Cities must therefore become leading actors for implementing sustainable energy policies," EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said at the launch of the initiative.

Some of the cities involved have already made their own steps towards dealing with CO2 emissions. London, for example, pioneered the use of congestion charging, a scheme which makes motorists pay to enter the city center.

Others, however, face an uphill struggle to reduce their CO2 output. Warsaw and Riga and other cities in former communist countries have seen an explosion in construction and car use in recent years, and their emissions have risen accordingly.

Cities to get in step with EU's plan for 2009

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso plans to slash greenhouse gases by a fifth by 2020

Barroso's EU Commission has taken the lead in climate change

The European Commission wants to lead the world's industrialized countries into a global climate deal by 2009 to help arrest global warming, which risks raising sea levels and causing more floods and droughts. Its plans for doing so have already been released in draft form, causing some argument as to whether the proposals go far enough.

Under the 2009 plan, local authorities in Europe will have to present regular reports and provide action plans as to how they intend to reduce their cities' carbon dioxide output. Those who do not conform to the rules will be excluded from the plan, which allots European money to local authorities to aid their climate programs and promote energy efficiency or renewable energy in the region.

"No town can change the climate situation on its own," said Regina Kneiding, the Berlin Senate's environmental spokeswoman. "Only together and in the long term can we make an actual contribution."

The Covenant of Mayors, just as the overall EU plan for 2009, does not go far enough, according to BUND, the German branch of the environmental group Friends of the Earth. German cities, in particular, appear to be getting an easier ride considering the federal government has set its own CO2 reduction target at 40 percent.

German cities need to commit to more, say groups

A German factory spews out smoke

Germany has set itself some high targets

"In this case, German cities should be setting their own targets at 40 percent," criticized Andreas Jarfe, BUND Berlin's director.

This is a view taken by the Climate Alliance of European Cities, a Europe-wide environmental pressure group. "Germany's cities must follow what the government is planning on a national level," said project leader Ulrike Janssen.

According to Senate data, the German capital has reduced its emissions output to 20 percent of its 1990 level. Nevertheless, Jarfe still sees many possibilities for saving energy in Berlin, particularly in the renovation of buildings.

However, private companies are still more preoccupied with fast profits than energy efficiency. The result is that heating systems are updated but the walls remain the same in terms of thickness and inadequate insulation. "With building renovation, there is still room for improvement," Regina Kneiding said.

Energy efficiency the key, say scientists

The plans for a bio-efficiency house

Advances in home energy efficiency can help the climate

The modernization of energy efficiency is backed by scientists in Germany as a way of tackling climate change on a municipal level. "The continuing modernization is very important," said Guido Spor of the University of Applied Sciences department for traffic and transportation in Erfurt. "Increased and more advanced insulation in roofs and cellars is already making a big difference."

However, Spor added that the national reduction targets would be difficult to achieve. Erfurt introduced its own scheme to reduce its emissions by 30 percent by 2020 at the start of February and that, Spor said, was already a tough target. The 40 percent level set by the federal government was "very ambitious," he said, and that only by developing strong support structures would this be attainable.

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