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Climate Package

DW staff (jc)December 17, 2008

European lawmakers have given the final thumbs up to a package of measures to fight climate change. Being hyped as the most ambitious environmental package ever, the next challenge will be implementation.

Wind power generators in Northern Germany
Windmills are low in CO2, but can they meet the EU's energy needs?Image: AP

The legislative package, which easily passed the European Parliament after being put forward by last week's summit of the EU's 27 member states, mandates a 20 percent reduction in the EU's 1990 levels of CO emissions by the year 2020.

The bloc hopes to achieve that goal by enforcing stricter standards for motor vehicle and factory emissions and by increasing energy efficiency in general.

At the heart of the effort is an emission trading scheme in which industry would be required in essence to buy permits to emit pollutants.

The package also mandates that the amount of energy the EU derives from renewable sources, currently at seven percent, be increased to 20 percent by 2020.

The deal is being touted as a crucial prelude to next year's international climate conference in Copenhagen, at which leaders hope to reach an international agreement. Many see the change in the US government next January as further cause for optimism.

"Everybody knows what Mr. Obama has set as priorities -- energy security and climate change," European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in the debate preceding the European Parliament vote on Wednesday, December 17.

But the EU's deal itself contains a number of compromises.

Coal and cars

Coal power plant in Western Germany
In future, Europeans will have to pay to polluteImage: AP

To get the deal passed, the bloc was forced to make concessions to many of the EU's newer, formerly Communist, Eastern European member states, which are still highly dependent on coal power.

As a compromise, states such as Poland will get roughly 12 percent of the revenues generated by the emission trading scheme.

Automakers also lobbied for and won more time to be able to meet stricter climate standards.

The deal's 18 percent cut in maximum allowable CO2 emissions for new cars will take effect in 2015 -- three years later than the date proponents had originally hoped for.

And it is unclear whether the EU will be able to meet its ambitious target for renewable-energy use. Wind and solar power are expected to play a greater role, as are bio-fuels, but the gap between Europe's energy reality and the future it foresees remains daunting.