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Europe

Old Members Pollute the Most as EU Emissions Rise

Industrial emissions of carbon dioxide in the European Union rose in 2007 despite EU schemes to cut them, with the EU's wealthiest and oldest members leading the surge, the bloc's executive said Friday.

The emissions of a coal power plant are visible behind a smal German town

Germany could do more to cut emissions

The rise was slower than the pace of EU economic growth, indicating that the fledgling emissions-reduction scheme is still having an impact, the European Commission said in a statement.

According to the commission, the more than 11,000 factories, power plants and smelters in the EU emitted 2.05 billion tons of CO2 -- the gas most associated with global warming -- in 2007, 16 million tons more than in 2006, or an increase of 0.8 percent.

This means that the permitted maximum level of 2.15 billion tons was actually not reached. Germany contributed most in overall terms to the rise with additional emissions of 9 million tons. But the country actually stayed below the maximum level of 498 million tons with a total of 487 million tons emitted.

The Netherlands emitted 3.2 million additional tons, but 10 percent less than their maximum allowance of nearly 80 million tons. Britain (5.4 million tons) and Spain (6.8 million tons) on the other hand went above the maximum level by 2.1 and 3.8 percent respectively.

Embarrassing numbers

Between them, the quartet accounted for over two-thirds of the entire rise in emissions seen across the EU. Their increase was partially offset by other countries decreasing their emissions.

That revelation is likely to be a major embarrassment to the veteran member states, who in 2007 spearheaded an agreement to cut the bloc's CO2 emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

A young girl with her face painted white and red holds up a Polska scarf at a soccer game

Poles have every reason to be proud as far as their emissions are concerned

It overturns the long-held assumption that it is the EU's new member states, with their relatively fast-growing economies, who are likely to record the highest emissions growths.

Indeed, while new members Estonia and the Czech Republic showed the highest emissions-growth rates in the EU, their fellow-newcomers Cyprus, Slovenia and Hungary all recorded slower growth rates than EU veterans, including the Netherlands, Spain or Greece.

Newcomers Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia even managed to reduce their emissions in 2007 - despite economic growth rates which were among the fastest in the bloc.

Bargaining chip for Brussels

The results, which confirm preliminary reports from early April, are likely to strengthen the commission's hand in negotiations to expand the trading scheme.

Stavros Dimas

Stavros Dimas backs strict limits on emissions

"Studies show that emissions would most likely have been significantly higher without the EU trading scheme," said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. "However, the small rise last year further confirms the need for a strict emissions cap."

The emission trading scheme, or ETS, was launched in 2005 as a way of making it more expensive to emit CO2, and thus to make it more cost-effective for factories to reduce their emissions.

The price to emit a ton of CO2 quickly rose to over 30 euros ($47.1), but collapsed when it was revealed in early 2006 that EU states had issued more permits than their factories had emitted CO2.

In January, the commission proposed a series of amendments to the ETS' rules. The most important proposals were to set a single, EU-wide cap on emissions permits rather than giving each member state an individual target, to make industry bid for permits at auction, and to include more types of industry in the ETS.

Frustrated UN official

The towers of a power plant are seen through smog in Cape Town

Why should countries like South Africa clean up their act if G8 countries don't?

The UN's top climate official on Friday meanwhile also expressed his frustration over Europe failing to take its place as a role model when it comes to fighting global warming.

"We really need a push now from G8 countries to show leadership," said Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a day before environment ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized nations were due to meet in Kobe, Japan.

Reaching a consensus on medium- and long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gases ahead of the G8 summit in July, also taking place in Japan, would be "very difficult," he predicted. De Boer, in an unusual expression of frustration, was notably concerned that Europe was softening its landmark commitments to cut greenhouse gases, thus sending the wrong signal to developing nations.

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