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Thursday, May 1, 2008


EC to G8: Match our ambitious carbon goals

Staff writer

The European Commission will push members of the Group of Eight industrialized countries to equal the European Union's commitment to fighting global warming when the G8 summit opens in July in the hot-spring resort of Toyako, Hokkaido, a senior EC official said.

Joao Vale de Almeida
Joao Vale de Almeida

Claiming the EU has set an ambitious goal on climate change, Joao Vale de Almeida, a G8 summit "sherpa," or personal representative of the EC president, said he will call on other members to take their share of responsibility.

"No one can win this fight alone," Vale de Almeida said in an interview with The Japan Times. "We need a collective effort by the international community. Nothing will happen without clear leadership by the G8 countries."

Last year, EU leaders agreed to cut 20 percent of emissions by 2020 compared with 1990 levels and may increase this to 30 percent if other industrialized countries agree to follow suit. In January, the EU unveiled an action plan to carry out this goal, including increasing the use of renewable energy to 20 percent.

"Science tells us that if we don't act now, we will be in trouble," Vale de Almeida said. "On the economic side, action later is more costly than action now."

According to the EC, the proposed measures will cost consumers about 3 euro (¥485) a week on average, while inaction will cost about 10 times more.

Compared with the EU's level of commitment, a U.S. climate initiative announced in April by President George W. Bush was not as ambitious as expected.

The U.S. vowed to stop the growth of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, prompting Germany to mock it as "Neanderthal."

Vale de Almeida's comments were more diplomatic.

"We believe that the challenge toward climate change requires a more ambitious approach from the American side," he said.

Emerging nations, including China, India and Brazil, will be invited to the so-called outreach meetings at the G8 summit in July. But Vale de Almeida noted that these nations will not be asked to exert the same degree of effort to combat global warming.

"We should go for common but differentiated efforts to reach our goals," he said. "We believe it is extremely important for emerging economies like China and India to contribute to this effort."

The EU, with 27 nations and a population of 500 million, introduced emissions trading in 2005 to tackle global warming. This system allows the trade of carbon emission rights, in which the worst polluting countries can purchase a portion of agreed allowances of greenhouse gas emissions.

Vale de Almeida said it believes the cap-and-trade system is the best way to create effective and quick results because market rules are applied.

Although the Japanese government is considering introducing emissions trading here, business lobby groups are strongly opposed to it, saying it would be a disadvantage to companies that have already adopted energy-efficient policies and weaken their international competitiveness.

"It's obvious that these policy choices are not easy ones," Vale de Almeida said, adding that the cap-and-trade system is still hotly debated in the EU.

But he also said energy-efficient companies will benefit in the long term, although they may have to shoulder short-term costs.

"Those who control the technology of the future control the market of the future," Vale de Almeida said.

He also welcomed Japan's proposed bottom-up approach, in which eight key sectors are given numerical targets based on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions each sector spews out.

"We very much appreciated the Japanese ideas," said Vale de Almeida. "Different nuances of policies are fully compatible provided that they deliver what is required."

Vale de Almeida said the most important point is for the global community to come up with a binding international agreement with numerical targets. At a Bali conference on climate change in December, participants agreed to conclude negotiations on a post-Kyoto Protocol framework in 2009.

"We believe that the G8 summit will be an important milestone on the road to a successful deal in 2009," he said.

Another key topic at the Toyako summit will be African aid, and the commission wants the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, established in 2000 by the United Nations to become the focus of attention once again.

"The levels of official development assistance to developing countries are less impressive than we expected," said Vale de Almeida. "The G8 summit comes at the right moment to provide the political impulse in reaching these MDGs."

The goals include a pledge to halve the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty by 2015.

But Vale de Almeida also noted that African nations are not only about poverty, starvation and conflict, as is often portrayed. Increasingly they are becoming destinations of investment and business opportunities.

"It's a continent of opportunity and success," he said.

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