The 27-nation European Union has just announced an historic new agreement aimed at cutting greenhouse gases and emissions. The accord announced at the weekend is in addition to their previous commitment to abide by the terms of the Kyoto Accord – and goes far beyond Kyoto and anything else that countries like the United States are doing. Or not doing.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Union agreed to ensure that over the next 13 years that greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 20%; 10% of all automobiles driven in the member states would be fuelled by biofuels made from plants; and that a total of 20% of all energy used by the member nations will be generated through renewable sources compared to the current 6%. These stipulations will apply to all 27 nations in the mighty European Union – the world's No. 1 economic power encompassing nearly 500 million people.
Some aspects in the accord have given environmentalists pause. First is the fact that the French and some of the newer Eastern European member states like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have insisted that nuclear energy be listed as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Some of these countries are landlocked and are at northern latitudes, which reduces the viability of solar and wind power acting as a substitute for coal as the driving engine of industry. While nuclear fuel might burn cleaner, the problem remains of what to do with disposal of the spent fuel rods. Would using nuclear fuel just be a matter of exchanging a short-term problem for a long-term one?
Then there is the fact that not all countries in the Union are going to comply within the time period allowed. Once again it’s the former Soviet Bloc countries that are facing difficulties. Having only joined the Union in 2004 some of them have not yet benefited completely from their membership and would face real economic difficulties in meeting the goals established by the agreement.
In order to accommodate these countries, the language of the agreement is vague about the commitment of individual countries, only stipulating that over all the Union meet these targets. So while some countries might fall short, as long as others make up the difference they will be able to claim success.
What the leaders of the European countries are hoping for, aside from preserving the earth a little longer, is that by showing a commitment to lowering greenhouse gases above and beyond that agreed to under the Kyoto Accord, they will encourage some of the other major polluters to at least sign off on Kyoto. Four of the largest polluters and consumers of fossil fuels in the world – the United States, Russia, India and China – are doing nothing to in the fight against global warming.
Since the biggest concern that each of the four countries has about Kyoto or any agreement that forces emission controls, is the impact it would have on their economies, this new plan by the European Union can be effective in a couple of ways in offering them encouragement. First of all is the fact that they have managed to come up with an effective means of ensuring that nobody within a group of 27 nations is going to have to do anything that will endanger their economic growth.
Then there is the fact that the Union will be reducing its own overall economic stability for the period of time it takes to adjust to its new reality. The other four countries will be in a position to institute Kyoto type controls and yet still be under fewer restrictions than the Europeans.
If they can get at least Russia on side, that will be a big plus. As Russia is a big trading partner with the Union it might not prove that complicated, especially if it can be made clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that doing so will make him look better in the eyes of the world than the U.S. The Cold War may be over, but the "competitive" spirit still remains between the two ex-foes. Nothing seems to motivate intent on the part of Russia's political leadership more then an opportunity to make the American government look bad.
The politics of the environment is tricky, where governments are more concerned with their chances of re-election or the fate of their political party than protecting our future. Somehow the European Union is managing to find a way to achieve results above and beyond the minimal requirements of Kyoto. Now that's an example we can only hope other countries can follow.