Sweden protests over EU emission targets

Denmark, Finland and Sweden are at the top of the European Union class in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but Brussels' plans to ask them to continue bearing a heavy burden through 2020 has rankled the three countries.

The European Commission is due to present individual targets for reducing CO2 emissions for each of the 27 member states on Wednesday as part of the EU’s previously stated goal to cut overall emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

Sweden is expected to be asked to raise its renewable energy use to 50 percent by then, Denmark to 32 percent and Finland to 40 percent – while the overall EU goal is just 20 percent.

The Commission has suggested basing the national targets on gross domestic product (GDP), a proposal opposed by the Nordic states and several other EU countries since they as rich countries would have to bear the brunt of the cuts while less wealthy nations, in particular central European countries with more coal based energy, would be allowed to increase their emissions.

But the Nordic nations’ primary concern is that their years of efforts will not be taken into account when the burden-sharing is divvied up among member states.

Sweden, cited by Germanwatch’s Climate Change Performance Index in December as the country doing the most worldwide to protect the climate, has reacted coolly to the expected 50 percent target.

“That’s a mighty goal. That will be very hard for us to achieve since we are already at 40 percent … And we already have twice the level the EU is supposed to have in 2020,” Olle Björk, deputy director of the Swedish environment ministry, told AFP.

“Sweden wants allowances for the fact that some countries have already done a lot while other countries haven’t done much. We want recognition for those efforts when it comes to sharing the burden for what remains to be done,” Björk said.

For the period 2008-2012, Sweden is set to meet its national target of reducing emissions by four percent from 1990 levels, according to the environment ministry.

And that despite an EU decision that allows Sweden to increase emissions by four percent since it has closed two nuclear reactors and suffered a drop in energy production.

Sweden, like the other Nordic countries, has long been at the forefront of the environmental movement.

Among the measures it has adopted are a CO2 tax introduced in 1991, subsidies to phase out household heating oil in favour of heating pumps and renewable energies, and subsidies for ethanol and green cars.

Finland, which has a national goal of cutting emissions by 20 percent by 2020, has also protested to the Commission.

“We’ve informed Brussels about the special conditions in Finland: the rigorous climate, the long distances (from the north to the south), its distance from the centre of Europe, and its heavily energy-consuming industries (particularly forestry),” a government source said.

“We’d like the Commission to set criteria that take these parameters into account,” the source said, adding: “We’ve already done a lot.”

Finland is currently building a fifth nuclear reactor and mulling a sixth in a bid to cut emissions.

It has also introduced green taxes, doubled its renewable energy level since 1982 to 28.5 percent, and is a world leader in energy-efficient cogeneration, or combined heat and power.

Denmark, which has no nuclear power, is meanwhile expected to meet its Kyoto Protocol target of a 21-percent reduction in emissions during the period 2008-2012.

It has doubled its renewable energies from 7.5 to 15 percent in the past decade.

Copenhagen has already set a national target of 30 percent by 2025, which it hopes to achieve in large part by increasing wind power – 20 percent of electricity consumed is currently derived from wind power, a share expected to rise to 50 percent – and a threefold rise in biofuel consumption.

It also plans to invest heavily in public transport and green cars.

“It is essential that (the Commission) take into consideration the measures adopted by the member states since 1997, when the European Commission urged everyone to redouble their efforts,” Danish Climate Minister Connie Hedegaard insisted.

“A lot of countries didn’t act, while Denmark doubled its level of renewable energy,” she said.