EU leaders back green energy policy

Friday, March 9, 2007

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European leaders gave strong backing Thursday to an ambitious plan to combat climate change, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, but cautioned that work was still needed on a key element -- binding targets for renewable energy sources.

She said the national leaders would tackle the specifics of how to share the burden of hitting targets for wind, solar and other renewable power sources when they gather today for the second day of summit talks.

The summit follows a major study on climate change. In the most authoritative such effort to date, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said last month that man-made emission were a leading cause of global warming.

Merkel wants member states to set a global challenge to the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan and other G-8 nations to agree on deep emissions cuts.

The EU also wants the U.S. to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrial nations to cut their global-warming gases by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The U.S. argues that Kyoto would hurt its economy and said such cuts should also apply to surging Asian economies like China and India.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia were arguing against any binding targets to force them to introduce at least 20 renewable sources by 2020, saying it was too costly.

However leaders and officials said a broad understanding had been reached to share the burden of meeting the target.

"Discussion showed willingness to compromise on both sides," said Merkel, who is leading the summit.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski, whose country is a big consumer of highly polluting coal, said Warsaw "is prepared to accept mandatory targets, but under certain specific conditions" that nations be left to define how to meet it.

Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said earlier that an agreement had been found to make targets for renewable energy mandatory, but said the issue of how to achieve that would be made at a later date.

"We would like to see a binding goal for renewables," Merkel said. "Our effort is to reach 20 percent renewable energy sources as a European average. That is an important objective."

France led calls that EU nations be allowed to use nuclear power as a low-carbon alternative as part of a renewables mix.

"We have to collectively fix an ambitious objective to use low-carbon energies in Europe," said French President Jacques Chirac.

Slovakia expressed concern about the 20 percent figure, while Hungarians brought up their lack of coastline and wind, said a EU official who was privy to details of the discussion. Luxembourg spoke about the possible revision of state aid rules to promote renewables, while Poland said it would go along with binding targets but wanted solidarity on their concerns about energy security, the official said.

Merkel had said Europe had much to lose if it did not agree on a tough package of measures including cuts on polluting emissions to fight climate change and reduce its dependence on oil imports.

"We have got to go for a sensible solution, for the right policy mix, which will ultimately deliver results for our grandchildren," Merkel said.

The EU leaders are set to develop energy ties with central Asian countries to reduce their dependency on Russian oil and gas in a final declaration being prepared for Friday. But leaders were still at odds over other issues.

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