Hungarian CO2 proposal gets mixed EU reception

Interview

A controversial proposal by seven eastern European Union states to overhaul the bloc’s efforts to cut emissions was rebuffed on Thursday by several EU environment ministers, but its backers said they had been misunderstood.

The seven, led by Hungary, want changes to take account of their historical reductions before they joined the EU. Spanish Environment Minister Elena Espinosa said such an alteration would force EU states to redress completely the way they share the bloc’s efforts, adding: “We think that would send out a very negative political signal.” A British diplomat agreed, adding: “We want to send a strong signal to the rest of the world.”

The 27-member bloc has set ambitious targets to cut CO2 emissions by one fifth by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. That overall target has been split among countries according to their emissions and economic strength in the baseline year of 2005, the first year the EU had verified data for all its members. However, CO2 emissions dropped significantly in eastern Europe between 1990 and 2005 due to economic weakness after the break-up of the Soviet Union -- and it is this reduction in CO2 that the seven want taken into account.

The countries backing Hungary are Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia. Poland, which is in a similar position to the seven and faces deep cuts to its largely coal-fired power industry, showed some sympathy without giving official backing. Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki said calculating cuts in emissions from 1990 would be fairer than doing so from 2005. “It would show greater solidarity,” he said. German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Germany was prepared to cut emissions by 40% by 2020, but the Hungarian proposal would force Berlin to cut by 50%. “This is a proposal we absolutely refuse,” he added.

But Germany and Sweden called for a solution to the seven’s predicament. “This was a constructive stance,” a Hungarian source said. “Quite a few did not speak against our case, and that’s quite positive, but we still sense some misunderstandings.” “The centralized EU emissions trading system would remain the same, and the results would count for the overall target. And some people think we want to return to national caps in the ETS, but that’s not true.” (Reuters)

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