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10 March 2007 Blog Home : March 2007 : Permalink

EU - Even The Indy Is Skeptical

You know the EU has a major credibility problem when even the editorialists at the Independent are skeptical. I'm going to fisk the entire article because it really is a classic of its kind of weaselly doublespeak, but I think the key point, and one that I agree with because I pointed it out yesterday, is that the EU has a habit of setting targets and then missing them.

Leading article: A decent deal, but hold off on the plaudits until emissions start to fall

Signing agreements in Brussels is one thing. Putting up the cash for action on the ground is, it seems, quite another

Published: 10 March 2007

The EU summit came to an end yesterday with an air of congratulation. Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, described the agreement on climate change signed by the leaders of the 27 EU nations as "historic". The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, welcomed it as a "breakthrough". Even Greenpeace called it "the biggest decision since the adoption of the Kyoto protocol" But what was actually agreed?

When I do this fisking thing I like to start off with the points where I agree with the object of my derision and in thi scase it is easy. As I noted yesterday I too am extremely skeptical that the EU will actually deliver the reductions it has agreed to.

The heads of the 27 EU nations pledged to cut overall levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 on 1990 levels, with hints that this could increase to 30 per cent if the US and other states sign up to an agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol. There was also a promise from European leaders to increase the use of biofuels by transport to 10 per cent by the same date. But the most sensitive part of the deal turned out to be the commitment to get a fifth of the EU's energy from renewable sources, such as wind, wave and solar power, by the end of the next decade.

So heres where it starts to go wrong. Why single out the US? Even the BBC says "It is thought the EU could offer to extend its 20% target for emissions cuts to 30% if other heavy polluters like the US, China and India come on board." And biofuels? let us not forget that a mere handful of days ago the Independent was rather less than keen on biofuels because they were going to lead to mass starvation and were a favourite of President GW Bush.

It would be wrong not to welcome the main thrust of this commitment. As Tony Blair rightly pointed out yesterday in Brussels, the agreement sets an example to the rest of the world. Europe can now go into meetings with developing countries able to demonstrate that it is practising what it preaches over climate change. It could also kick-start the flagging negotiations over a successor to Kyoto.

Arguably the example it sets is an example of mass hysteria and stupidity, but even assuming that it is a good example, the line about "able to demonstrate that it is practising what it preaches over climate change" is only true if the EU starts to deliver on its committments, something that the Indy was skeptical about two paragraphs earlier.

There can be little doubt that renewable energies require an urgent boost. Renewables accounted for less than 7 per cent of the EU energy mix in 2005. And Europe will fall short of the voluntary goal of generating 12 per cent of its energy in this way by 2010. The UK is not leading the way on this. We generate just 4 per cent of our electricity from renewables, despite being well placed geographically to harvest the energy of the winds. Expanding renewables is not a responsibility that can be devolved to the energy companies. The disgraceful tactics we learned of this week that some companies are using to exploit environmentally concerned consumers should serve as a warning. A much stronger lead from national governments is needed.

Dear Indy editors. You are either stupid, wilfully ignorant of basic economics or deliberately ignoring your knowledge thereof. This section: "Expanding renewables is not a responsibility that can be devolved to the energy companies..... A much stronger lead from national governments is needed." is a major hint that the economic incentives are not in favour of renewables. If the government has to do the job then we know it will be done inefficiently. If the government(s) truly believe that they should do soemthing then they need to set the ground rules through taxation rates etc. such that it happens. If despite changing tax rates, providing grants etc. it still doesn't happen then the government needs to reflect on King Canute.

Yet this agreement is far from perfect. For one thing, it is deeply disappointing that nuclear power, although it will not be considered a renewable energy source, has been recognised as part of the EU's overall carbon reduction plan. This was a concession needed to get France and Finland on board. Other concessions have weakened the deal too. The final text of the agreement allows flexibility in how each country contributes to the overall EU target. The Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, whose economies are still dependent on heavy industry and coal, are to be allowed leeway. There will therefore be a greater burden on better-placed countries such as Germany. This is fair. But there is a danger that the vague wording of the agreement will result in some countries that could do more claiming the right to do less.

Either this pact is a deal about reducing carbon emissions or it isn't. If the former then, since nuclear power doesn't emit carbon, it makes perfect sense that it be included in the "renewable" category. Even respected green figures agree that uclear power is a good way to go and, ironically, although there have been very few published studies, it is widely believed that the majority of coal fired plants produce more radioactive fallout than equivalent powered nuclear reactors becuase coal contains a shedload of nasty readioactive impurities.

This emphasises the main reason for scepticism over the deal: delivery. Setting targets, even legally binding ones, are no guarantee that they will be met. Several European nations are unlikely to meet their Kyoto targets. Britain is going to miss its 2010 target of reducing carbon emissions 20 per cent below 1990 levels. This is in part due to the Government's incompetence. The grant scheme for people who want to put up solar panels on their homes is grossly underfunded, despite a clear and growing demand for it. Signing agreements in Brussels is one thing. Putting up the cash for action on the ground is, it seems, quite another.

Let us recall that there is a supply problem here too. Even if the government increased the amount of grant money available we still wouln't increase the amount of solar power too much because there isn't enough raw material available at the moment. Indeed given that Britain is a cludy country it makes more sense for such solar panels as do exist to be relocated to places like Spain where there is plenty of sun rather than the UK where there isn't.

The lesson is that mutual congratulations must be postponed until such time as individual governments follow through on their rhetoric.

But I'll end up agreeing again.Andalucian hideaways Get away from it all - in the Spanish countryside EU governments are very good at rhetoric and have been very bad at following through. Mind you the Independent itself has a similar problem, on the internet the article currently has this as one of the "Editor's Choice" additional articles. May one enquire how folks from blighty are supposed to reach their Andalucian Hideaway without gratuitously increasing their carbon footprint

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin