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Europe Challenges U.S. by Slashing Greenhouse Emissions

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Europe has taken the lead in the battle against climate change in an historic pact to slash greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable power. Over the weekend the 27-nation European Union announced it would cut the emissions by 20% within 13 years – and 30% if major polluters like the United States agree to do the same.

The 30% target was widely understood to be the European Union’s opening bid for a new international agreement on emissions when the international Kyoto Treaty expires in 2012. Support from the United States would be vital: “If we do 30% alone, the costs for the EU would be too high," said officials at the European Commission in Brussels. The thought about “burden-sharing” is also pointing toward a potential deal with the United States at the forthcoming G8 Summit of industrialized countries in June .

In addition to carbon reductions, EU leaders promised that by 2020, one fifth of European energy for the Union’s 494 million citizens will be derived from renewables like wind and solar or hydroelectric power. The role of nuclear power got an unexpected boost. In a compromise with France and the Czech Republic, nuclear power capability will be taken into account when determining national commitments to renewables.

If nation-states within the Union fail to meet objectives they can be hauled into the European Court of Justice.

Another binding target would be biofuels that should account for 10% of EU transport power by 2020. Energy efficiency savings of 20% are targeted within 13 years, while there would also be a new push on carbon capture and storage technologies.

Environmental groups in Europe were divided. Greenpeace praised the deal as “the biggest such decision since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol.” Friends of the Earth was less enthusiastic. “Heads of States gave a modest boost to the uptake of renewable energies, but agreed that the EU should aim low on cutting greenhouse gases, and failed again to agree on any concrete commitment towards reducing Europe’s appalling waste of energy.” Other environmentalists thought greenhouse emissions would have to be cut well beyond 30% to make any kind of possible dent in the quickening catastrophe-in-the-making.

The deal was predictably hailed by European leaders. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac both praised the way the Summit was managed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her climate change aims had met opposition in East European countries that still rely heavily on coal. The outcome was not easy, but “Mrs. Merkel achieved it with intelligence and brio,” said Chirac.

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