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October 14, 2008 / Mridul

Europe Wants To Invest In Developing Countries To Achieve Its Emission Targets

Struggling to get every member nation on board for an ambitious emissions reduction proposal the European Union has now decided to completely overhaul the proposal and present the member nations plan a which, although suits their needs, is harmful to the environment and puts the fight against climate change in serious jeopardy. The new proposal would allow the member nations to forgo crucial emissions reduction goals in their own country and achieve the binding reduction goals by investing and financing clean energy projects in the developing countries. 

The new proposal is the seal of failure on Europe’s leadership in fight against climate change. Europe has shown tremendous will to push for strict emission standards, be it in auto, aviation or shipping industry, it is very unfortunate that the European leadership has surrendered to the economic and geopolitical concerns of various member states.

A number of countries are reluctant to invest in costly renewable energy systems and doubt that these would ever form the backbone of the national grid. East European countries, with huge reserves of coal, are reluctant to give up the rights to use the cheap energy resource as it would force them to rely on the relatively clean natural gas from Russia. Poland, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria have decided to oppose the ambitious proposal which would have seen Europe’s carbon emissions go down 30 percent by 2020. 

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted last week that member states should only be allowed to meet eight per cent of their emission reduction targets by funding low carbon projects in the developing world.

In contrast, several countries including the UK have been lobbying for permission to meet up to half of the target using carbon offset projects and are now poised to raise the issue of more relaxed import limits again this week.

But as also pointed out by many environmental groups, this plan is fundamentally flawed for various reasons.

Firstly, adding such a loophole into its climate policy would only undermine Europe’s reputation of being the global leader in fight against climate change. Instead of leading the developed economies and pressurising the developing ones (which are now some of the biggest polluters) Europe wants to give an easy pass to its member states to claim that it is actually making great progress in curbing its carbon emissions. 

In addition, it is the East European nations which require national energy policies centred around renewable energy sources so that they don’t have to rely on Russia. If these nations feel that the initial proposal was too daunting on them and that their economies would not be able to support the costly renewable energy systems they should ask the EU leadership to allow the wealthy West European nations to invest and help them instead of investing in developing countries which are already reaping the benefits of the Clean Development Mechanism and still are not able to contain their rising carbon emissions. 

And finally, it is the same problem that critics claim is making Clean Development Mechanism a failure. Allowing the developing nations to emit more while the developed nations claim massive emission reductions. What net difference does this system make? Since the developing nations are not obligated to reduce their emissions under the Kyoto Protocol their actions usually go unchecked. The developed nations simply invest in these countries without checking back if their funds are really reducing the emissions. 

Investing in clean energy systems in developing countries is not a new concept but the evidence of its failure is apparent in the fact that developing nations are the world’s biggest emitters. A better way of pressurising the developing economies to reduce emissions is to demonstrate the same. High crude oil prices presented a golden opportunity to move to renewable energy similarly this economic crisis also presents us with an opportunity to invest in the clean energy solutions at the grass root level. The economic crisis must not be used as an excuse to postpone the inevitable – formation of renewable energy centered energy policies.

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