UK accused of hypocrisy over plans to limit enforcement of EU climate goals

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

British lobbying to reduce monitoring of EU countries’ action on climate change has sparked outrage among MEPs and environmentalists.

EU states agreed last October to cut their carbon emissions 40% by 2030, but a UK plan co-authored with the Czech Republic proposes that countries’ emissions cuts should only be overseen with a ‘light touch’ regime with a diminished role for Brussels.

The unpublished paper places equal emphasis on business competitiveness and greenhouse gas reductions. It also calls for nuclear power and experimental carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to be given the same status as renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, and energy efficiency.

“It is very worrying that the UK government is now discussing how to ensure a light touch on the 2030 targets,” the Labour MEP Seb Dance told the Guardian. “In the past, the UK has led the way towards decarbonisation but that has to be combined with developing renewable and low carbon alternatives.”

“This paper is further proof, if anyone needed it, that the Tory[-led] government has totally given up on being ‘the greenest government ever’, as they once claimed,” he added.

Key to the UK proposal is a shifting of climate governance responsibilities from the EU – which can take countries to court if they breach commitments – to ‘national plans’ which states themselves would police.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change said: ”The UK has been leading the climate debate pushing for an ambitious deal in Europe and by building alliances and working constructively with our European partners, and last year we agreed an ambitious package of measures that meet all the UK’s top priorities.

“Currently there is no governance framework and one needs to be designed, so claiming something is ‘light touch’ is wrong and misleading. The current reporting system is confused and we want the governance to focus on ensuring all member states have a clear and coherent plan to meet their 2030 greenhouse gas targets, much like our own Climate Change Act does now.”

Under the British proposal, Brussels would be stripped of powers to act over non-implementation of climate policies. The commission would report to EU leaders on the bloc’s combined progress every three years or so, while the European Parliament would be removed from the equation altogether.

Climate campaigners fear that in practice, this would allow fossil fuel-friendly nations such as Poland and the Czech Republic to wriggle out of their obligations at the European Council, where they would possess a veto.

“Fighting climate change is a huge challenge which calls for more, not less regulation,” said Brook Riley a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Europe. “It is very hypocritical for the UK to say that urgent action on climate change is needed and then oppose the common EU policies required to deliver it. This is exactly the kind of leave-us-alone approach the UK will be condemning at the Paris climate summit later this year.”

Europe’s collective offer at that conference will be the pledge of a 40% emissions cut by 2030. Last October, Britain successfully prevented any binding renewable energy or efficiency targets being included, raising questions as to how the greenhouse gas reduction would be achieved.

The new paper advocates EU support for countries that want to use nuclear energy or CCS and calls for the commission “to present a new CCS strategy for Europe as early as possible” in 2015.

CCS is strongly supported by energy companies like Shell. It involves the sequestration and piping of carbon dioxide into underground fissures and currently aids fossil fuel extraction, as well as allowing their continued burning long into the 21st century.

One study by Durham University found that ‘enhanced oil recovery’ using CCS could allow £150bn of oil to be extracted from the North Sea that would otherwise have been left in the ground.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has suggested that CCS may need to contribute up to 22% of global emissions reductions by 2050. But the world’s leading energy scientists do not expect it to be commercially viable before the mid to late 2020’s, which could be too late for countries that pin their CO2-cutting hopes on it.

“It it is clear that behind the British government position, you have BP, Shell, E.On and EDF,” the Green MEP Claude Turmes said. “But why are we bounced into bad politics by a government that may not even exist after May? Where is their leverage?”

The British alliance with a Czech government seen as pro-coal and anti-renewable energy “shows that they have no interest in a better energy policy at all, just renationalising powers and destroying a strong EU [climate] approach,” he added.

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