Greenhouse gas cuts will impact on everything from homes to transport

Further big cuts to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in the EU promise to affect every aspect of people’s lives, from their homes, to transport, to work and food.

Desperate efforts will continue right up to today’s EU summit to try to agree an ambitious range of new targets to fight climate change, but several countries were threatening to block.

Ireland is one of the few countries that has succeeded in getting what it needs to reduce the impact of huge amounts of methane produced by the country’s 8 million cows.

Hopes were high in the Irish camp last night that fellow EU members would agree that by 2020 agriculture would be recognised as both a contributor and a solution to greenhouse gases.

In this way the methane, which is a greenhouse gas, emitted by sheep and cows, could be offset against the absorption capacities of forestry, but also grasslands that also act as a carbon sink.

Ireland is the only country, apart from New Zealand, where methane is such a big issue and other than getting rid of the animals there is no way of eliminating it. But if it cannot be offset, then the country will be fined huge amounts of money for each year that it fails to meet its greenhouse gas targets.

It is expected to become an issue in 2017 or 2018 as the EU comes to the end of the current targets when the country may be forced to buy carbon credits on the open market, as required by many industries that exceed the limits set for them.

Now with new targets to be set and agreed for the period up to 2030 at today’s summit, it is even more urgent that Ireland’s unique problem finds a solution.

Prime ministers want the EU to retain the lead in the fight against climate change and need to have their targets agreed ahead of the UN climate change conference in Lima in December and the details worked out before the Paris meeting next November.

They appear to be willing to accept a 40% cut in greenhouse gases from the 1990 figure, 27% of energy to come from renewable sources and a 30% improvement in energy efficiency, such as through insulation.

But most have specific issues that they want taken into account. Portugal is digging in its heels over the issue of exporting energy, in its case to France. It wants a specific number of cables and pipelines to be a mandatory part of the overall package and is supported by Spain.

The existing target to have interconnections sufficient to carry 10% of energy needs cross border, and especially linking up islands, has not been achieved and is as low as 3% in some areas. Poland with its dependency on goal generated electricity wants financial help and a special fund may be set up to help them gradually move towards more sustainable energy.

Britain has very definite views that there should be no individual binding targets on member states, although they will accept an overall EU target. They are particularly against binding targets on energy efficiency, arguing that they need the flexibility to decide how they will reach the targets themselves. Even the way targets are allocated to countries — in the past it was based on GDP which left Ireland and Denmark with very ambitious targets — is under debate as the GDP system benefitted the poorer eastern EU countries up to now.


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