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Poll reveals EU governments out of touch on climate action

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A new poll shows EU citizens support strong climate action. Creative Commons: European Parliament, 2013

As European ministers meet in Brussels for two days of talks on the details of the 2030 climate and energy package, new research highlights that the majority of EU citizens want strong action on climate change.

Eurobarometer opinion poll on climate change published today, shows that at least two-thirds of people in EU countries recognise that reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using energy more efficiently and investing in green technologies could boost the economy and reduce unemployment.

Even in countries that have suffered the worst effects of the financial crisis, a large majority believe such moves would be beneficial.

Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action welcomed the report:

A clear majority of Europeans expect their politicians to tackle the climate challenge now. The citizens understand that climate change did not go away while their governments were busy handling the economic crisis. It is not either growth and competitiveness or the climate. It is both, it has to be both.

Meanwhile, new research has highlighted the “moderate” costs involved in the EU setting strong 2030 climate and energy targets.

The analysis from the UK government’s energy department assesses the European Commission’s climate and energy proposal and found that a 40% emissions cut would cost the EU just 0.19% of GDP, while a 50% cut would still only mean an additional cost of about 0.59% of GDP compared to business as usual.

This week’s meetings in Brussels is the first chance for energy and environment ministers to discuss the Commission’s proposal.

On Monday, ministers from 13 of the 28 member states put their support behind a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, based on 1990 levels and urged the EU to reach an agreement on the main elements of the package this month.

Dividing lines between countries are beginning to emerge. The UK says it will now support the 27% renewables target “so long as it cannot be binding on member states”.

Meanwhile, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is quoted as saying the country could not accept a 40% emissions reduction target, and the Polish government continues in its attempts to delay negotiations saying it does not want any firm agreement on new emissions targets until after the 2015 international climate conference in Paris.

Other governments want an early agreement. They warn that failing to put targets in place in the coming months could deter green energy investors, delay efforts to reach an international deal on climate change and dilute the EU’s influence on the level of ambition at the Paris talks.

Denmark and Germany are championing increased action ahead of the March summit, arguing for the renewable energy target to be increased to 30% and for an energy efficiency goal.

Greenpeace are also calling on governments to support strong targets in these areas. Frederic Thoma, Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser said:

A carbon target without a renewables and an energy efficiency target would be like a bicycle with no pedals – it will move but it won’t take you very far. Right now, renewables are delivering about half of all carbon cuts in Europe. This is no time to stop pedalling. EU heads of government have to get back in the saddle so that climate protection and the modernisation of the energy system can finally gain some speed.

Portugal supports the proposed 40% emissions cut and is calling for strong targets of 40% for renewables and 30% energy savings.

Sweden says the 40% greenhouse gas target could be increased to 50%, while the Netherlands and Slovenia are calling for specific measures for the transport sector.

While the political debates rumble on, civil society organisations want more countries to wake up to the demands of the general public.

A coalition of European NGOs is calling for a package that includes 55% emissions reductions, a 45% renewable energy share and 40% energy savings.

Jason Anderson, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office said:

Member State governments must show the political leadership needed to inspire Europe towards an industrial and economic revolution that will provide for both people and the planet.

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