Sense prevailing in (some parts of) the European Commission

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"If we go alone to 30%, you will only have a faster process of de-industrialisation in Europe," the EU's energy commissioner Günther Oettinger was quoted saying in The Guardian[1] on the 10 February. “We need industry in Europe, we need industry in the UK and industry means CO2 emissions.”

The energy chief's comments have been a welcome interjection of sense as internal wrangling over EU targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30% - rather than the current ambition of 20% - continues. He warned that a tougher target would force industries to move to Asia.

Figures published at the end of last year certainly add credence to this view. While the EU is on track to meet its Kyoto objectives, as a result of falling emissions from production, the Policy Exchange[2] published research showing that the consumption of greenhouse gases continues to rise. The UK is consuming a third more CO2 than in 1990.

This rise is a result of the greenhouse gas emissions “embedded” in the products and materials we are importing into Europe and the UK from elsewhere in the world where production is not regulated. We are not reducing emissions. We are offshoring them. There really is little sense in striking out to reduce greenhouse gases unless the rest of the world joins us.

So, could Commissioner Oettinger's comments signal the end of the current debate?

Not if the UK government has anything to do with it. Just yesterday the Energy and Climate Secretary, Chris Huhne, in a speech to the Royal Geographical Society[3], called for “more ambition” by “pushing hard for a higher EU emissions target – a 30% reduction by 2020 – to drive innovation in Europe.

Presumably he knows something we don't. And he does. The cost to the UK economy. While the Rt Hon Huhne crusades for tougher targets, his department has yet to inform us of the cost to the UK's fragile economy. Luckily, the European Commission has been a little more democratic with the truth. It has calculated that a move to the higher target would cost about €81bn (£68.4bn) a year by 2020, or 0.54% of GDP, compared with a cost of €48bn for the 20% goal.

This could be an expensive outsourcing exercise.

[1] Hopes of 30% cut in greenhouse emissions dashed

[2] Carbon Omissions: Consumption-based accounting for international carbon emissions

[3] Chris Huhne speech to the Royal Geographic Society - "The Perfect Storm"


Director of UK Steel

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