From the Sacramento Bee
EU leaders to discuss green energy plan
By CONSTANT BRAND -- Associated Press Writer
Published 2:59 am PST Thursday, March 8, 2007
BRUSSELS, Belgium - German Chancellor Angela Merkel will push her European Union counterparts to go green on energy at summit talks Thursday, urging them to adopt tough measures needed to fight global warming and reduce Europe's dependence on oil imports. Merkel, who is leading the two-day meeting, is keen to get the 27-nation EU to adopt new rules to boost the use of less-polluting, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydro power. She wants the EU to set a global standard, to pressure the United States, Russia and others to follow Europe's new pro-environment agenda. "Europe has set its own important step, and now others like the USA, China, India and the large developing countries must follow," Merkel said late Wednesday. "Europe has 15 percent of worldwide emissions, and the trend is to reduce it, so we also need other countries." The EU leaders are set to agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020 from 1990 levels, a first step in Europe's ambitious strategy to fight global warming. They are also set to develop energy ties with central Asian countries to reduce their dependency on Russian oil and gas. However, many EU nations are loathe to live up to proposed commitments to switch from fossil fuels like cheap coal to more costly renewable sources, arguing that it will add costs and hurt economic growth. They are also at loggerheads over whether to replace 10 percent of transport fuel with biofuels by 2020. Germany, Britain and Italy are pushing hard for a binding 20 percent renewables target by 2020, but France and many eastern European nations are against it, fearing they could lose the right to draw from cheaper sources such as coal or nuclear power plants. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Merkel were holding talks with business and union leaders ahead of the start of the summit to go over the EU's new strategy to set up a low-carbon economy to counter climate change, specifics of which are now up for debate. Merkel said Thursday that measures against climate change should be "moved forward with determination and binding" targets, but that she expected "very difficult negotiations." "Europe wants to be in a leading role. People outside of Europe are looking at us," Merkel said. The summit talks also will focus on drafting a declaration to mark the EU's 50th birthday party planned for March 24-25 in Berlin, but reaching unity may be difficult as many nations have topics they do not want mentioned. Foreign ministers are to debate efforts to bring stability to Iraq as well as Iran's standoff with the West over its nuclear program. Somalia and Lebanon also will be discussed. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday he will press EU counterparts to bolster their troop contributions to NATO's mission in Afghanistan. A summit deal on energy will help Merkel put pressure on other Group of Eight industrialized nations to take action on the environment at a G-8 gathering she will host in June. Germany wants the EU summit to set a global challenge to the U.S., Canada, Russia, Japan and other G-8 nations to agree on deep emissions cuts. The EU leaders are set to back a goal to cut carbon dioxide releases and keep the average global temperature increase under 2 degrees Celsius, saying they will agree on a 30 percent cut below 1990 levels if other major polluters join them. According to a draft agreement, they will aim to go even further in the future - with cuts of 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050. The EU also wants the United Sates to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrial nations to cut their global-warming gases by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The major economies of the EU have committed to an 8 percent cut. Washington however, has argued that Kyoto would do serious harm to the American economy, adding such cuts should also apply to new Asian rivals China and India.