Tony Blair will next week complete a British U-turn over green energy and support an ambitious 20 per cent mandatory target for renewable power as a share of European generation capacity.
The British prime minister has overruled his industry minister and will argue at an EU summit that Europe needs binding targets for renewables to show it is serious in fighting climate change.
France on Wednesday indicated it could also drop its opposition to mandatory targets, suggesting that next week’s summit will herald a surge in investment in wind, solar, biomass and other renewable power sources.
The news is a victory for Angela Merkel, German chancellor and host of the Brussels summit, who believes Europe’s commitment to tackling global warming would be hollow if member states pursued a voluntary approach.
Mr Blair was also lobbied strongly by environmentalists and by JosÃ© Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, whose wide-ranging energy and climate change policy will be the centrepiece of the summit.
A British government spokesman said Mr Blair wanted to back Ms Merkel and Mr Barroso: “We will therefore support the proposal for a binding EU-wide 20 per cent target for renewables.”
He said the 2020 target would have to met in a “realistic way”, with some member states having to do more than others to meet the overall European objective. Alistair Darling, British industry secretary, argued last month for a flexible and non-binding approach.
French diplomats said President Jacques Chirac could also accept the binding target provided there was “flexibility in implementation” ““ code for an agreement that France’s nuclear industry already contributes to cutting carbon emissions.
Poland and some other new member states are also worried about the renewables commitment but allies of Mr Barroso said they hoped they could be won over before the March 8-9 summit.
Without a big increase in renewable use, the 27-member union stands little chance of meeting its target of cutting overall greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.
Mr Blair is said by colleagues to view next week’s summit as “one of the most important in years” and a test of whether the European Union could lead the world in fighting climate change.
About 5 per cent of the UK’s electricity generation comes from renewable sources at present. This is behind government projections, under which 6.7 per cent should come from renewables this year to meet Mr Blair’s pledge of generating 10 per cent from renewables by 2010.
However, the government and the British Wind Energy Association contend that the UK can generate 20 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020, most from offshort wind farms.
Wind power developers believe it will be easier to gain planning permissions for offshore farms, and planning delays hold up about two thirds of onshore wind farms at present.
By 2020, wave energy and tidal generation projects are also expected to make a small contribution to Europe’s energy needs.
By George Parker and Sarah Laitner in Brussels and Fiona Harvey in London
The Financial Times
28 February 2007
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