INTERVIEW - EU Must Not Backslide On Climate - UN Official
Author: Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
Yvo de Boer said many countries were looking to the 27-nation EU to spearhead a fight against climate change with its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
"My main concern is slippage and not having clarity on when the package would be finalised," de Boer told Reuters of a decision by EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday that he said was less firm about a December deadline for agreeing the details.
"I'm concerned that this could lead to a delay vis-a-vis the stated intention of finalising the package this year," he said.
EU leaders have reaffirmed the plan to agree the climate package this year but handed concessions to heavy industry and to former communist nations, worried about costs at a time of economic turmoil.
The leaders said they wanted preparations in coming weeks to enable them "in December 2008 to decide on appropriate responses to the challenge of applying (the) package in a rigorously established cost-effective manner."
Deciding on "appropriate responses ... is slightly more open" than the language defining a 2008 deadline at recent EU summits, said de Boer, who heads the UN Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Europe should continue to provide leadership on climate change. "I hope the EU will soon conclude its package, which has the potential to foster green growth and create millions of new jobs," he said in a statement.
More than 190 nations have agreed to work out a new UN treaty by the end of 2009 to try to slow rising temperatures that experts say will bring heatwaves, droughts, more powerful storms, lead to species extinctions and raise sea levels.
De Boer said he hoped France, which holds the EU presidency, would push the package through, including measures to boost renewable energies in a shift from fossil fuels.
"The French have made it a priority to get this package done... It's been announced that it will be done this year -- the package will deliver on the minus 20. The international community is looking to see how the EU will implement its policy," he said.
A group of east European countries, led by Poland, claimed victory in reducing their share of the burden. And Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi dangled a veto threat to demand less cost for Italian industry.
De Boer said he did not believe any EU delay would affect climate efforts by other developed nations. In the United States, for instance, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both say they favour tougher actions to combat warming than President George W. Bush.
"But I think developing countries would be concerned," de Boer said, saying that a delay could make it harder for the EU to agree new funding in early 2009 to help developing nations brake their rising greenhouse gas emissions.
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(Editing by Chris Wilson)