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Environment

New EU climate plans not good enough, say the experts

The European Union's new proposals are simply inadequate for a climate pioneer like Europe, say the experts. Many suspect that big business is getting preferential treatment.

For years Europe has been seen as a world leader on climate issues, but economic constraints are now hitting environmental policy. That was the subtext of José Manuel Barroso's presentation on Wednesday (23.01.2014) as the head of the EU Commission outlined proposals for new climate goals for the bloc.

For Arthur Neslen, a European energy policy expert and journalist with the EU affairs website EurActiv, the proposals are disappointing, but understandable.

"It's politically safe to propose the minimum, most painless, climate protection solution for industry now," Neslen said. "But, ultimately, we are just storing up problems for down the road."

Industry first?

The proposals require a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent (compared to the 1990 level) and an EU-wide binding renewable energy target of at least 27 percent. Both targets would need to be met by 2030. Also part of the package is a new stability reserve for the EU emissions trading system to improve its efficacy.

José Manuel Barroso announces the new EU climate proposals in Brussels

Barroso announced the new proposals in Brussels on Wednesday

With coal production in Poland on the rise, Germany's lignite mining booming and the UK looking at shale gas opportunities, many see the new goals as simply pushing climate targets further into the future, while allowing European industry to recover from tough economic times.

The less-than-ambitious goals for renewable energy are an especially problematic part of the proposals, environmental groups say.

"[That] will handicap the rollout of renewables, and it guarantees the plight of risky and environmentally-damaging nuclear and coal power," said Antje von Broock of the German environmental organization BUND.

Von Broock argues that rather than just assisting big business, smaller companies specializing in energy reduction and renewables also need help to recover from Europe's economic crisis.

"The statement on the energy savings goals was that we just need to keep doing what we are doing. But companies in this field actually need a clear signal from Brussels," von Broock said.

Load on Germany

Currently, there are binding targets on renewable energy levels for each country up to the year 2020. Under the new proposals, an EU-wide policy will be put in place to at least reach a 27 percent renewables level across the 28 member nations.

But the concept of a policy across the bloc, rather than based on individual country goals, won't really work, argues Wendel Trio from Climate Action Network Europe. "The energy-savings target we already have in place is also a European-wide target, and it is clear that it is not being reached at the moment."

Brown coal mine in Hambach, Germany

Germany continues to rely on coal mining despite the push for renewables

"If member states don't have clear instructions on how to meet a target themselves, it's going to be difficult to achieve that level."

Under the proposals, national plans on renewable energy may still exist, but they won't be obligatory for the countries involved.

Clemens Simmer, a researcher in climate change at the Bonn University Meteorological Institute, says that this is an acceptable approach.

"It's of course a bit of a shame when Germany and other particular countries have to lead the way on renewables," he told DW.

"I would prefer if other European countries would do more in that area, but perhaps it's just not possible. Germany can make a big contribution in this area, after all."

The European example

Europe's efforts in achieving its current 2020 climate goals have been partially successful already. According to Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, Europe is on track to reduce its carbon emissions by 24 percent on 1990 levels by 2020, for instance.

EU-Kommissar für Energie Öttinger Klimakommissarin Connie Hedegaard

European politicians have argued for years that the EU is a leading light on climate issues

But there are still areas that need urgent attention, such as Europe's troubled Emissions Trading Scheme, where companies purchase offset certificates for the pollution they have produced. Recently, prices on that market were as low as around 4 euros ($5.42) per ton of carbon from a high of around 30 euros at its peak five years ago.

Under the new proposals, reforms to the Emissions Trading Scheme would come into effect well down the track, in 2021.

"The scheme needs urgent reform now," said Wendel Trio. "What we need is the surplus certificates to be cancelled so that the scheme can play a role again in reducing carbon emissions."

For Trio though the main problem with the new proposals is that they represent a missed opportunity.

"Europe is the first to come up with a specific proposal," he told DW. "This will be used by much of the rest of the world as a benchmark, when they are setting their own level of ambition."

"They will see that Europe isn't pushing the boundaries and so they will, most likely, also not push the boundaries themselves," he said.

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