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Benny Peiser: Green Debate In Europe Has Reached ‘Deadlock’

It is almost inevitable that we will see the evolution of a more pragmatic and less zealous approach to tackling climate change and energy policies – claims think-tank

Did you know that Poland blocked new European Union emissions targets at a recent meeting of EU environment ministers? Are you aware that there is growing support among Eastern European governments to block any new unilateral climate targets permanently? The reason you may not have heard of this growing rebellion in Brussels is simple: climate policy is no longer a big item on the EU’s agenda and the climate mania is gradually coming to an end after almost 20 years.

In the past, Poland’s intractable hostility to green unilateralism was greeted by universal protestation in capitals around Europe. Today, it is hardly noticed by the media while green campaigners have become elderly and limp. Other and more pressing concerns are taking precedence and are completely overriding the green agenda. It looks as if a new political ice age has ascended over Brussels.

Poland together with allies from southern and Eastern Europe is seeking to block efforts by environmental ministers and non-governmental organisation to introduce new, unilateral CO2 targets. Opponents, however, demand that EU climate policy should be tied to international climate policy. Given that any global climate agreement is not even envisaged until 2015 – if it ever materialises – Poland claims that it would be “premature” to decide on Europe’s future climate policy today. Member states agreed, in 2008, to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. The European Commission had drafted a proposal to slash emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 – in effect, to levels that would essentially prohibit the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Opposing governments argue that any new targets should be conditional on other major industrial nations agreeing to similar cuts. As a result of the Brussels deadlock, climate and green energy policies face a severe crisis. There is a growing risk that the EU’s unilateral strategy is hampering the economic recovery and, consequently, the future of European competitiveness. The whole green agenda is becoming increasingly unpopular. Voters and energy intensive industries are increasingly hostile to climate policies because they are inflating energy bills and heating costs. European leaders themselves are now seriously considering whether to continue with unilateral decarbonisation in the absence of an international agreement.

In its draft report on its Energy Roadmap 2050, the commission warns that “if coordinated action on climate among the main players fails to strengthen in the next few years, the question arises how far the EU should continue with an energy system transition oriented to decarbonisation”. In light of global disagreement over the future of climate policy, hardly any European government is clamouring for green leadership. Even Germany and France no longer want to go it alone. Many European governments simply refuse to go beyond the 20 per cent emissions target.

Europe’s conventional climate and energy strategy faces both huge challenges and new opportunities. It is almost inevitable that we will see the evolution of a more pragmatic and less zealous approach to climate and energy policies. This in itself would be greeted with much relief by a public that is increasingly concerned about the disproportionate burden the climate mania has inflicted European economies.

Dr Benny Peiser is the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation think-tank

Public Service Europe, 28 March 2012