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European environment ministers seek 20% EU emission cut by 2020 - extended

European Union environment ministers proposed a target for the EU to reduce greenhouse gases after 2012, seeking to make it more costly for industries including energy to emit pollutants blamed for global warming.

The ministers called for a minimum 20% cut in European greenhouse gases by 2020 and said the EU should seek a more ambitious reduction target of 30% for rich nations as a whole including the US. The proposal matches a recommendation last month by the European Commission, the EU's regulatory arm, and goes to government heads for scrutiny. „The EU is facing an historic decision,” Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel of Germany, which holds the bloc's rotating presidency, told reporters today in Brussels, where the ministers met. EU heads of government and state will discuss the proposal at a March 8-9 summit. The 27-nation EU is trying to keep alive the idea of binding limits in any accord to succeed the Kyoto treaty amid warnings about global-warming disasters. Emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide are blamed for higher world temperatures, rising sea levels and more frequent heat waves, floods and storms. The Kyoto accord, which requires greenhouse-gas cuts of 5.2% by 2012 compared with 1990, exempts poor nations and is opposed by the US, the world's biggest polluter. Poor states say rich ones should lead the way with reductions, while the US says the refusal of developing countries to take part makes its participation too costly for American companies.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas says US sentiment is shifting and the country may support the international fight against climate change. „There is a considerable shift in the debate,” Dimas, who held talks with US officials in Washington last week, told reporters today. „Strong action to curb emissions will be needed from all developed countries, including the United States.” In urging a minimum 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gases by 2020, the environment ministers said any international accord to succeed Kyoto should aim for a 30% cut from developed countries. This objective is „right and necessary” to fulfill the EU's aim of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, said Gabriel.

Kyoto's 5.2% reduction goal is based on a range of national targets including 8% for the EU. That European goal is the result of a burden-sharing accord involving different targets for individual member states including a 21% reduction obligation for Germany, the EU's biggest emitter, and a 12.5% reduction requirement for the UK, the bloc's second-largest emitter. By contrast, some member states such as Spain and Ireland are spared any obligation to cut emissions. Spain's target under the burden-sharing accord for Kyoto is a 15% rise and Ireland's goal is a 13% increase. In a new accord among EU nations for 2020, member states in poorer, ex-communist eastern Europe would have looser emissions targets than countries such as Germany, said Gabriel. The environment ministers anticipated future EU negotiations over a burden-sharing agreement for 2020 by addressing the principles that would underline a new accord.

Targets for individual governments will have to be set in a way „reflecting fairness and transparency and taking into account national circumstances,” the ministers said in a statement. Factors that may help determine the target for each member state include its commitment to promote renewable energies, commission officials said. Countries including Finland, Denmark and Spain had voiced concerns about committing to a 2020 emissions-reduction target for Europe without information on a burden-sharing system. To help reduce emissions, the EU imposes carbon-dioxide quotas on 11,400 power plants and factories. Businesses that exceed their limits must buy permits from companies that emit less or pay a penalty under the system, which the EU says is a model for the world. The EU plans to add airlines to the system in four years, saying aviation emissions that now account for about 3% of the bloc's total greenhouse gases are rising too fast to be excluded from the cap-and-trade program. The commission in December proposed legislation that would extend the emissions-trading system to flights within the EU in 2011 and to all flights to and from EU airports in 2012. The draft law needs the backing of EU governments and the European Parliament. „We do need to include aviation” because of the air-transport industry's „massive growth,” Gabriel told his fellow environment ministers in a televised debate that was their first discussion of the proposal. Aviation emissions risk canceling out reductions by other industries, he said. Environment ministers from some countries including Spain said airlines should be added to emissions trading in 2013. (Bloomberg)