Gordon Brown: EU cuts must go deeper to get Copenhagen climate deal

8/12/2009 Guardian Prime minister tells the Guardian he hopes the EU will agree to a cut in emissions of 30% by 2020.Gordon Brown is pushing European leaders to commit to deeper cuts in carbon
emissions in an attempt to seal a global deal, he revealed as representatives of 192 countries began negotiations at the climate change summit in Copenhagen.

The prime minister told the Guardian he hoped the EU would agree to cut its output of greenhouse gases by 30% on 1990 levels by 2020 – a cut 10 percentage points deeper than Europe is currently offering. So far, the EU has said it will cut by 30% only if an ambitious global deal is reached. Brown said: “We’ve got to make countries recognise that they have to be as ambitious as they say they want to be. It’s not enough to say ‘I may do this, I might do this, possibly I’ll do this’. I want to create a situation in which the European Union is persuaded to go to 30%.”

Any move to increase Europe’s emissions reduction target would be fiercely resisted by eastern European countries as well as Italy and Austria, who have opposed deeper cuts. An increase in the European pledge would mean the UK would have to achieve a cut of 42% by 2020, compared with the current British target of 34%. Because the UK is already racing to build renewable energy as fast as it can, the additional cuts would probably require measures such as road charging, increased fuel taxes and tougher emissions standards for cars.

On the opening day of the Copenhagen summit Saudi Arabia’s chief climate negotiator, Mohammed al-Sabban, told delegates that the scandal over hacked emails from University of East Anglia researchers had undermined confidence in the science of climate change and would “affect the nature of what can be trusted in the negotiations”.  But after lambasting climate deniers as “flat-earth sceptics” and “anti-change Luddites”, Brown would say only that he “fundamentally disagrees” with Sabban, who last week said he believed there was no link between human behaviour and
warming. “I somehow think that when we get agreement the Saudis will not refuse to be part of it,” Brown said.

The prime minister’s call for Europe to increase its “level of ambition” came as the expert committee charged with setting Britain’s carbon targets published a report suggesting that higher flight taxes will be necessary to choke off demand for air travel.  The report said Britain could afford to see air travel increasing by up to 140m journeys a year by 2050 without breaching its carbon targets, allowing for the building of runways at Heathrow, Stansted and Edinburgh airports. But it warned that development at other regional airports such as Gatwick, Birmingham and Newcastle would have to be curbed if growth in aviation was to be kept to 60% rather than the 200% by which it would expand if allowed to go unchecked.

Brown stopped short of suggesting that the EU should increase its offer irrespective of the outcome in Copenhagen, but said an increase in the European target would be “a signal that the world has come round to agree an ambitious deal”.  Campaigners and experts including the economist Lord Stern have argued in recent weeks that the EU must increase its offer to unlock a deal because the US
president, Barack Obama, constrained by the need to secure domestic legislation, cannot. Lord Stern told the Guardian last night: “The EU can show real leadership and help to bring an agreement in Copenhagen a step closer by committing now to its higher ambition.”

He said if all countries confirmed their highest conditional offers, the target for annual emissions of 44bn tonnes by 2020 – which gives a reasonable chance of meeting the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2C – would be bridged with further commitments of just a few more billion tonnes. Bryony Worthington, carbon expert and founder of the campaign group, said: “The prime minister’s support for a move to the EU’s higher target is very encouraging. With targets on the table from all major countries, the EU can kickstart a leadership race and do much to unlock
political tensions in Copenhagen. The move would mean taking on a much more realistic target than the current one, which will be met with almost no effort.”

A Polish diplomat at the UN summit in the Danish capital said any unilateral move would not be strategic, as it would give away a significant EU concession without anything in return. The Polish economy is highly dependent on coal and its government has strongly resisted increases in the EU’s targets. The prime minister also said he hoped Labour would be able to match a Tory commitment to cut government emissions by 10% within a year as a contribution to the 10:10 campaign, which is asking individuals, businesses and other organisations to cut their carbon footprint for next year.
Brown said: “We are trying to achieve 10% … throughout Whitehall the message has gone out: ‘You’ve got to save energy, we’ve got to be more energy-efficient’.”

Until now, the government has argued it would be too expensive to cut government emissions by 10% within a year, and some departments that have already reduced their footprint would struggle to cut deeper.  In October, Labour killed a Lib Dem/Tory-backed bill that called for the government to make the 10% cut. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has meanwhile signed up City Hall to the
10:10 campaign, as part of his goal to make the capital “the greenest city on Earth”. But he stopped short of making a personal pledge.

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