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Friday’s meeting of EU environment ministers is being pushed to the brink of crisis by a Polish rejection of any mention of the EU’s Low Carbon Roadmap for 2050, which foresees up to 95% emissions cuts by mid-century.

EU diplomats scrambling to put together a compromise are being hampered by a Polish reluctance to accept any mention of carbon-reduction milestones between 2020 and 2050.

The European Commission presented a roadmap in March 2011, proposing to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by as early as 2020 as well as targets for 2030 (40%), 2040 (60%) and 2050 (80-95%).

Poland backed the target for 2050 at an EU summit in 2009 but is reluctant to agree on the intermediary steps or milestones contained in the Commission’s roadmap.

“It is on this particular point that Poland has stated its opposition,” one senior EU diplomat said in reference to the 2020 milestone.

“It is clear that there are still issues in the conclusions that the Poles will find it very difficult to accept,” another diplomat told EurActiv. “Their essential issue is that the roadmap is not to be worked on further and should not be the basis for discussion.”

Poland currently relies on coal for more than 90% of its electricity, and blocked proposals to toughen the EU’s carbon dioxide emissions targets in June 2011.

Reuters quoted a Polish government source as saying that Warsaw would again veto two texts of draft conclusions on Friday, one relating to the Low Carbon Roadmap and one follow-up paper on last December’s Durban Climate Change Conference.

“We cannot agree to anything that would directly or indirectly allow for higher emission-reduction goals in the near future,” he said.

Warsaw’s reservations

Another source in Brussels told EurActiv that Warsaw’s reservations in the roadmap text included the length of the 2050 timeframe, the modeling instruments used, uncertainties over carbon capture and storage technology, and the threat that industries would relocate abroad if Europe pushed further carbon reduction goals.

“It is very important to commit to something that we can fulfil,” the source said. “It is not about us being for or against Europe. It is about being serious about commitments.”

In a bid to prevent a Polish veto, the Danish EU presidency had already omitted reference to the 25% emissions reduction milestone for 2020 from the draft conclusions. But Warsaw was apparently not placated.

While some central and eastern European nations are sympathetic to Poland’s concerns, bigger EU member states such as the UK, Germany and France have not given up on the roadmap’s vision.

These countries underline the necessity of setting a target for 2030 because it would help prop up Europe’s depressed carbon market already in the current period. Carbon prices are currently hovering at around €8 a tonne, way below the €25 to €40 considered necessary to have a significant influence on business decisions.

“We want as much ambition as possible for 2020 and have been pushing for 30% emissions cuts,” one EU diplomat told EurActiv. “The roadmap is there and we want to see figures in the text that give certainty for business about investing in low carbon [technologies],” he said.

Another diplomat sketched the battle lines in the EU Council of Ministers. “The debate in Council will be between Germany, which wants a milestone in 2020, the Brits who are on the same line, and Poland – with others like Romania and the Czech Republic – which are telling us that not only a 2020 milestone is out of question but that even the current [compromise] text is creating problems.”

Kyoto II in the balance

The debate over the Commission’s low-carbon roadmap for 2050 will shape the position that Europe takes to the UN climate summit in Doha later this year.

But as Europe prepares for a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, which runs until the end of 2012, Poland argues that the EU should not sign a blank cheque on its climate commitments.

Equally, while most EU countries support proposals to prolong Kyoto for eight years until 2020 in line with the EU’s climate commitments, Poland prefers a shorter extension of five years, until 2017, as a gambit in international negotiations.

‘Hot air’ compensation

At stake in the Durban follow-up text to be debated on Friday are the surplus carbon credits known as assigned amount units (AAUs), which are held by countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Ex-communist states were deluged with this ‘hot air’ after their heavy polluting industries collapsed in the 1990s. The current economic crisis has made matters worse as factories closed or reduced their output, depressing demand for carbon credits.

The surplus allowances are now valued at between 11 billion and 12 billion tonnes, a significant amount even at today’s low carbon price, a diplomat said.

EU negotiators are currently working on dividing this hot air into two parts – one which is carried over for the Kyoto II commitment period and another which could be reinvested into low-carbon technologies.

“The assumption is that there would be a financial compensation for this,” an EU diplomat told EurActiv, indicating that finding money was at the heart of the ongoing talks.

“We’re working on these topics but we don’t expect a fundamental breakthrough at this Council meeting,” he said. “This is not the first time that we are discussing this. We’ve tried everything.”

EurActiv, 8 March 2012