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EU rejigs climate rules

March 1, 2017

An EU emissions trading system revision has been agreed by its environment ministers in Brussels. It's supposed to cap climate-damaging gases beyond 2020. European Parliament Greens say the deal is too industry-friendly.

Symbolbild Umweltschutz, Klimaschutz & CO2-Emissionen
Image: DW/K. Jäger

Environmental ministers of the 28-nation bloc on Tuesday agreed to tighten what the EU bills as its "cornerstone" method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 - compared to its levels in 2005.

Operators of 11,000 energy intensive installations and airlines across Europe buy and sell certificates allowing them to pollute but only up to an overall cap set for the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Since being created in 2005, too many certificates ended up in circulation and kept prices low, thereby generating little incentive for operators to invest in cleaner technologies.

Tuesday's agreement, following a European Parliament vote two weeks ago, will reduce certificate availability by 2.2 percent every year between 2021 and 2030.

Simultaneously, excess certificates are to be removed from the market.

Annual availability cuts had previously been foreseen at 1.74 percent per year.

'Strong commitment,' says Canete

Arias Canete, the bloc's Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said Tuesday's agreement demonstrated "once more the European Union's strong commitment" to making the global transition to clean energy.

EU Miguel Arias Canete PK in Brüssel
Strongly committed to climate goals, says EU's CaneteImage: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Hoslet

The council and parliament could now initiate further negotiations on the so-called"phase 4" revision of the EU emissions trading system (ETS) under the EU's current Maltese presidency, Canete said.

German environment ministry states secretary Jochen Flasbarth said: "We have tightened certificate trading but at the same time insisted that our industry sectors facing competition must be bolstered."

'No improvements,' say Greens

Rebecca Harms, environmental spokesman for the European Parliament's Green faction, said she saw "no improvements," given what she termed parliament's "weak position" on certificate trading.

She criticized in particular the German government, accusing it of protecting heavy industries by arguing that otherwise "whole sectors" would shift abroad.

Instead, the system's special allocations of certificates should concentrate only on those sectors that are "really exposed to international competition," Harms said.

Accurate measurements needed

Energy intensive industries include cement and steel works within the EU.

The system requires a high level of accuracy and verification when measuring gases blamed for climate warming, notably carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and perfluorocarbons emitted during aluminum production.

Obama unterschreibt Executive Order
Will President Trump follows Obama's climate plan?Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Sachs

Inn the aviation sector the ETS applies only to flights between airports located in the 31-nation European Economic area (EEA). It encompasses the EU nations as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

China' coal consumption falls

In further sign of climate-amelioration efforts, China - the world's biggest carbon emitter - on Tuesday said its coal consumption fell for a third straight year in 2016.

Last year's coal usage decline was 4.7 percent, while solar capacity grew by 81.6 percent and wind capacity by 13.2 percent, said China's National Bureau of Statistics. Although falling, coal last year still made up 62 percent of the nation's energy mix.

China Smog in Peking
Beijing shrouded in smog, mostly from coal-fired plantsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Imaginechina/L. Gang

Global peak within reach? 

Greenpeace policy adviser Li Shuo interpreted China's data as a hopeful pointer that the "global peak in emissions might well be within reach" and that China was reigning in its addiction to coal and "ploughing money into renewables."

Targets set at UN conferences would however, only be reached "if all major emitters break free from fossil fuels and reduce emissions," Greenpeace said.

Severe smog in China has caused public discontent, particularly in winter. 

Germany's "Handelsblatt" reported Monday that carmakers were under strong Chinese pressure to boost sales of electric cars.

Germany's former capital Bonn hosts a major UN climate conference, the so-called COP 23, in November. Expected are 20,000 delegates.

ipj/bw (AFP, dpa)