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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

EU Climate Action

Air Date: Week of

The European Union is calling on member countries to cut their CO2 emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels, and boost renewable energy 20 percent by 2020. Host Bruce Gellerman turns to Mark Mardell, the BBC’s Europe editor, to find out what this means for energy supply, security, and future EU action on climate change.


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.

Al Gore is hardly the only major public figure devoting his energies to fighting climate change these days. In a few minutes, we’ll hear about a new collaboration between scientists and evangelical Christians on climate change.

But first, we turn to Europe, where early this spring the 27 nations of the European Union will consider an urgent call to action. The E.U.’s executive body, the European Commission, has proposed a sweeping new energy plan. It’s designed to fight climate change and reduce the region’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Among the goals: cutting greenhouse emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020. European Union officials say if the plan is adopted it will herald a new industrial revolution and make the region the most energy efficient place on earth.

Mark Mardell is the Europe editor for the BBC. He’s on the line with us now from Brussels. Mark, from all accounts this is an awfully ambitious proposal.

MARDELL: Well, this is as you say, incredibly ambitious. Not only because of what it’s aiming for but also in its scope. There are 9 documents. They run to well over 1,000 pages and they cover anything you can possibly think of that’s to do with energy. Whether it’s to do with the way that electricity and oil companies are organized how they’re structured, down to how much electricity we should get in Europe from, whether it’s wind power or wave power or whatever, and also throwing nuclear into the bundle. So it covers everything. But until now there’s been no Europe-wide comprehensive plan.

What’s happened now is that they believe in climate change. People here are completely persuaded that climate change is a real threat. And they’re saying well, clearly this is something that we can do on a Europe-wide, global-wide scale. So that’s why they’ve got the plan.

GELLERMAN: What makes you or Europe think that they can do in 2020 what they so far haven’t been able to do by 2012- that is meet, you know, the Kyoto goals or be on target to meet those goals?

MARDELL: First of all there is an acceptance I think, in the European public that there is a problem and it has to be dealt with. It’s a very different atmosphere to America, I think. But I think the bureaucrats would also say that the technological means are there to deal with this problem. In the past I think people who said climate change had to be tackled, maybe they were thought of as people who were saying well you have to bicycle everywhere, you’ve gotta find a way of sticking a windmill in your garden and stuff like that but we can not have the sort of modern industrial society we have right now.

Now I think that is changing. There are plans, I visited the site of where the Germans are planning to build the first ever zero emission coal fired power station. There are increasing ways of using wind and wave and solar power that the EU at least sees can supply a real real big part of the energy mix. And I think nuclear is coming back into fashion a bit. It isn’t seen quite as dangerously as it once was. So I think people think this is actually technologically achievable. That they also, I must say in Europe, there’s a sort of industrial purpose. Until they are told the money is there and people are willing to spend on it then companies won’t bother to develop it. They think this will also be a sort of industrial driver for Europe.

GELLERMAN: It seems Mark, that this is not just about global climate change and green house gasses, but it’s also about energy security. The European nations are looking to the East where they get most of their energy from, Russia. And they’re saying, “Hold it, we need to become more self sufficient.”

MARDELL: That is absolutely correct. Absolutely. I mean climate change is a major driver for this. But energy security is also there in the back of everybody’s minds. Just in the way that Britain, during wartime, had to be able to supply itself with food, now some countries are saying for security reasons you’ve got to be able to supply yourself with energy. But what it also does, as you say, is make people look at Russia and wonder what can be done. You might say not very much. But certainly the diplomats of the European Union are saying, “We have to speak very loudly, very firmly with one voice.” So they want stronger negotiating parameters so that they can tell Russia, “Look don’t turn the taps off. It’s not acceptable and you in the end will suffer if you do this.”

GELLERMAN: Mark, there are 27 EU member states and they have to approve this plan in I think, was it March, what are the prospects for that?

MARDELL: I think the prospects are quite good in terms of the targets. Yes, you’re right, there are 27 countries and they’re each actually going to carry on having their own energy policy. They’re not completely pooling sovereignty. They’re not handing it over to the EU on this. They’ll continue to make their own decisions about say the exact mix between nuclear and renewables and coal. But I think there is a fairly good chance they will come to an agreement at that big meeting in March. I think where you’ll get a lot of opposition is the European Parliament and the members of the European Parliament tend to be, how shall I say? A little bit idealists, they don’t have the equivalent of an executive role. So they can afford to speak from the bully pulpit if you like. And I think a lot of them are going to say this is too little too late and they will try to get those targets raised a little bit. So they are more ambitious. There are more renewables, the aim for getting rid of carbon emissions is more ambitious.

GELLERMAN: You know, listening to you I get the sense that Europe is really entering a new era and it’s being driven by energy and climate change.

MARDELL: Yeah, it is. But I think it’s also being driven by politics. I think there is an awareness, or at least an acceptance I should say that climate change is real and it is the biggest danger facing the world in many ways. And that is a very very strong awareness in the European public. It’s almost a passion. But there’s also politics, as I say in this. The politicians in the European Union know that the EU on its 50th birthday year isn’t terribly popular. People think it spends a lot of time spending money on unnecessary things, on subsidizing farms that don’t exist, some people claim, on arguing on the minutia about whether it should have a constitution or not.

And they are looking for something that will make people say, “Ah, that’s what the EU does. That’s what it does for me. That’s why it’s worth having.” And they’ve settled on energy as that sort of policy, where they can persuade young people, young and old people, that the European Union can lead the way, show America the way. And I think that is frankly something that is popular in Europe, teaching the Americans a lesson doesn’t go down badly in most European populations. But Europe can lead the way in dealing with a very real problem.

GELLERMAN: Well, Mark thank you very much.

MARDELL: Thanks very much.

GELLERMAN: Mark Mardell is Europe Editor for the BBC in Brussels.



European Union: Energy for a Changing World


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