It may seem unfair but while the old countries of the EU are ordered to slash their carbon emissions, the opposite is likely to be true for the new member states.
The European Commission is due to announce national targets for each country, which will mean that the poorer the nation, the easier the ride.
Every one of the 27 member states will have to work towards a flat cut in industrial CO2 emissions via the emissions trading system (ETS), but beyond heavy industry the story changes.
The older EU 15 are expected to bear the brunt of the carbon cuts because their economies are developed.
Those that are judged as still developing will be allowed to increase their emissions by up to 20% on 2005 levels, dependent on their gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.
According to figures used by the European Commission, Romania and Bulgaria are the poorest members of the EU and Ireland and Luxembourg the richest.
Poland and Bulgaria
So Bulgaria will be allowed to increase emissions from buildings and transport as well as industries not covered by the ETS, such as agriculture and the service sectors. Poland is also in line for an increase.
That might come as a surprise when Poland derives 96% of its electricity from coal-fired power stations.
But the government argues it should have the right to a higher quota as it needs to expand its economy. And that is the thinking behind the EU’s plans.
Allowing poorer countries some slack, it argues, will enable their economies to grow and eventually catch up with the richer ones.
Andre Jol from the European Environment Agency says the feeling is that using a country’s wealth to assess targets is as good a measure as any.
“The assumption is that countries will reach the same level of wealth in general terms,” he says.
But Jason Anderson of the Institute for European Environmental Policy says that Poland needs to move away from coal.
“Poland’s problem is that it has more opportunity than anybody to cut. If you view coal as an inevitable part of life, you’re going to have trouble.”
He believes Poland could follow earlier examples such as the UK’s switch from coal to gas and Germany’s heavy investment in windpower.
Bulgaria used to be a rich source of energy for its neighbouring countries until it was told to close down much of its nuclear plant at Kozloduy power station as one of the conditions for joining the EU.
It lost considerable revenue and now argues that it should reopen the plant because nuclear power appears to be back in fashion.
Julian Maslinkov from Bulgaria’s Climate Change Policy Department told the BBC News website that Brussels had had no clear benefit in allowing his country and Romania into the club.
“I think it’s obvious the EU’s decision to include our countries into the family of Europe is honestly very political.
“The EU was aware of the Russian influence in Bulgaria and this is maybe one of the main hidden reasons: to try to grasp Bulgaria out of Moscow’s reach. But it failed: we have never been outside their influence.”
But now that it is in, Mr Maslinkov says it is only fair that Bulgaria has the same advantages that other relatively poor countries had when they joined.
Its business and transport sector is growing and so is its industry.
“Because our economy is in its first stage of converting to modern technology, we need proper time to reach [the levels] of Western countries.”
The new accessions states are also likely to have a built-in advantage in the commission’s target for consumption of renewable energy because GDP will form part of the calculation.
While Sweden is most advanced in the field, with almost 41% of its total deriving from renewables, Latvia is close behind with more than 35%.
But Bulgaria is also making advances. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development says it is involved in more than 100 projects which add up to a reduction in emissions of 500,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.
It says renewables are “really blossoming” in Bulgaria.
By Paul Kirby
23 January 2008
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