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Europe

EU Climate Plan Sees Strong Opposition from Member States

EU environment ministers pledged Monday to honour ambitious carbon emission reduction targets for the bloc, despite fears industry could be severely impaired in light of the global financial crisis.

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Italy has expressed strong opposition to EU plans to cut carbon emissions by 2020

But some EU states expressed deep opposition to the plan at the EU environment talks in Luxembourg, fearing a loss of billions of euros and the weakening of their economies.

In opposition, Italy's voice was loudest as it labelled the plan unreasonable, arguing that, coupled with the financial crisis, such lofty emission targets would place an unacceptable burden on its economy.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who last week threatened to veto the reduction plans, called for a review mechanism that would allow for changes to the EU's targets once the plan's costs had been accurately calculated.

Last year the EU pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. It also promised to ensure that renewable energies would make up 20 percent of its energy sources.

To achieve these targets, heavy industry, which accounts for around 40 percent of the EU's carbon emissions, would have to cut its emissions by 21 percent from 2005 levels.

Coalition of the unwilling

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has moved to protect domestic interests

Italy said the plan would cost its economy around 25 billion euros ($33 billion) a year, although the European Commission puts that figure at a more modest 12 billion euros.

Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo insisted several EU states were just as unenthusiastic about the EU plan.

"The package as it stands right now is not suitable. It is untenable. Significant changes are needed," she said. "We are not the only ones to take this position.

"We demand a review clause. We hope now that real negotiations will be opened. We've come with good intentions. We are going to ask for many modifications and we hope they will be taken into account," she said.

The Baltic states, along with Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Poland also raised objections to the EU plan, exposing fears their coal-reliant energy sectors would not be able to adapt in time.

In clear acts of economic protectionism, Rome and Warsaw convinced their EU partners to formally accept the package at the upcoming EU summit in December only if unanimous, rather than majority, support was given for it.

Not all doom and gloom

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said international climate talks depend on the EU plan

But some EU environment ministers remained resolute that ambitious targets were necessary to curb dangerous global warming.

"We can underline the strong willingness from the EU states to intensify their work to reach an accord" in December, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said after chairing environment talks in Luxembourg.

"The financial crisis does not stop climate change," he said.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the financial crisis was being used as an excuse by states afraid of the economic consequences of bridling carbon emissions.

"If we don't make it (to agreement by December), the international negotiations on climate change are going to be seriously compromised," he said.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas chimed in, referring to the EU plan as "the red line."

He said any adjustments to the plan would have to avoid "touching the environmental objective."

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