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Business blocks climate targets

By Daan Bauwens



STRASBOURG, Jul 6, 2011 (IPS) - A crucial proposal to move to higher climate targets in the EU was resolutely voted down Tuesday after amendments by Conservatives heavily watered down the proposal. Several members of parliament blame business lobbying for the loss, even though dozens of corporations called out for higher climate goals.

One year ago, European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard launched the proposal to unconditionally move to 30 percent cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2020. This step would make it substantially easier to achieve the 80-95 percent CO2 cuts that Europe wants to attain by 2050.

Furthermore, projections made by the European Commission have shown that the European Union is on a trajectory of meeting the 20 percent cuts by 2020 without any extra effort by industry.

The Parliamentary Comittee for Environment (ENVI), led by green Member of Parliament (MEP) Bas Eickhout, investigated the proposal and came up with an ambitious draft resolution. According to the resolution, the EU should pledge to cut its emissions by 30 percent by 2020. 

Limited offsets must be allowed, but 25 percent of the emission reduction should be achieved domestically.

Moreover, the draft pointed out that this strategy could create up to  six million new jobs in green sectors and provide a needed boost to the European economy. The draft resolution was approved in the Comittee on May 24, but still had to make its way through the plenary voting in the Parliament.

The report did not survive the plenary. After an orchestrated action by a group of Conservative and centre-right MEPs, the proposal was watered down to such an extent that Bas Eickhout himself called for the rejection of the report. 'With a mere surplus of three votes, the conservatives voted in favour of amendments that took the core out of my proposal," Eickhout told IPS.

One of these amendments stated that all emission reductions should only be achieved by saving energy, another amendment said that the proposed emission reductions should not be binding. "If the proposal would have been approved including the conservative arguments, we would have been warped back in time," said Eickhout. "In 2008, we had already agreed on a binding target of 20 percent by 2020. With the new amendments, the 2008 resolution would not make sense any more."

Watering down the initial proposal, the European conservatives clearly  sided with industry lobbyists who have been resisting every form of European climate policy since 2008. Ever since Bas Eickhout reopened the discussion about higher climate goals at the beginning of 2011, industry lobby groups have launched a campaign against higher climate targets, arguing that it would harm the economy and lead to job losses.

Documents compiled by the Brussels-based NGO Corporate Europe Observatory show lobby groups BusinessEurope, representing employers' federations, Eurofer, the European steel manufacturer's association, and CEFIC, the association of the European chemical industry, have intensively lobbied the Commission and Parliament to prevent them from approving the new climate legislation.

In letters to Climate Commissioner Hedegaard and several MEPs, BusinessEurope complained about the fact that emission reductions should be achieved domestically. It threatened that such legislation would force the industry to relocate outside of Europe.

Furthermore, the lobby group encouraged member states to "not acknowledge" any binding emission reductions and to make any change to the 2020 targets conditional to a legally binding and enforceable international agreement with equivalent actions from major economies.

In March 2011, the chemical lobby group CEFIC met with Commissioner Hedegaard, with similar arguments. At the meeting CEFIC president Giorgio Squinzi was accompanied by the CEOs of BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, ExxonMobil, Procter&Gamble, Rhodia, Shell and Solvay.

"Industry lobbyists always repeat these arguments: it is going to cost us jobs and we cannot do anything without an international agreement," 

Eickhout told IPS. "That is how they convinced the conservative MEPs. But saying that, they miss the most fundamental element of the discussion: it is in Europe's interest to take the lead in the green economy."New branches of industry would appear, creating new jobs. A recent study said that Europe could create six million new jobs with higher climate ambitions. China is already heavily investing in green technologies, and we cannot keep up with them. If we wait for the rest of the world to take action, we are going to lose competitiveness. It is turning into an international race and because of industry's choices, we are loosing it."

While BusinessEurope claims to represent the business community as a  whole, its legitimacy was questioned in October 2010 when a group of 'green' companies including Vodafone, Google, Unilever, Philips, Marks & Spencer and Nike called on the EU to increase its ambition to cut EU emissions to 30 percent. The debate reached it peak when this May Greenpeace activists sealed off the entrance to the European Business Summit in Brussels that was organised by BusinessEurope, only allowing  representatives of 'green' companies to enter the Summit.

"When BusinessEurope says we are against more climate policy in  Europe, they are only speaking for a small fraction of their actual members," Matthias Duwe, director of Climate Action Network Europe  told IPS. "Lots of companies and business sectors are actually seeing the opportunities that come with saving energy, renovating buildings, investing in renewable energy. Our main challenge to BusinessEurope  is: you do no longer represent the actual voice of Business in Europe, you should rather stay silent and let the positive voices come forward." (END)

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