BRUSSELS, Belgium – Europe embarked on a bold path to fight climate change Friday, agreeing that a fifth of the energy used by the 27-nation bloc by 2020 will come from renewable sources like the sun and the wind, and challenging the rest of the world to follow.
The plan goes beyond the 35-nation Kyoto Protocol in setting targets for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, but it still faces problems over how to share the burden among its coal- and oil-dependent countries, and what to do about nuclear power.
The European Union leaders hope their commitment to tackling climate change will encourage other leading polluters, such as the United States, Russia, China and India, to agree on deep cuts in emissions of the gases that contribute to global warming.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds both the presidency of the EU and the Group of Eight industrialized nations, will present the plans to President Bush and other G-8 leaders at a summit in June.
Merkel challenged the rest of the world to follow the EU, saying there still was time to “avoid what could well be a human calamity” caused by an overheated planet.
The leaders agreed that the EU will produce 20 percent of its power through renewable energy, an increase from the current figure of around 6 percent.
They also pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 20 percent from 1990 levels, but said the EU could go to 30 percent if other countries join.
The plan also called for one-tenth of all cars and trucks in the EU nations to run on biofuels made from plants.
The agreement, which does not have an enforcement mechanism yet, means more windmills, solar panels and energy-efficient light bulbs for Europe – and certainly changes in lifestyle, business and the economy.
The major business lobbying group BusinessEurope complained to Merkel this week about the energy targets and said it was “a step into the unknown” because no one had ever assessed the impact on European companies.
But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the short-term costs would be outweighed by the price of doing nothing.
The nations are divided over the role of nuclear energy – a technology that creates little CO2 but a lot of radioactive waste. At French insistence, the summit agreement noted the role atomic energy could play in replacing coal- or oil-fired power plants.
If EU nations fail to carry their weight, the EU’s executive arm should be able to launch legal action at the bloc’s high court that could lead to the imposition of heavy fines on countries that violate the targets.