In recent days Italy and Poland had both signalled unhappiness that the EU was pressing ahead with ambitious climate change targets at a time of grave economic difficulty.
Silvio Berlusconi has said "Our businesses are in absolutely no position at the moment to absorb the costs of the regulations that have been proposed" while Poland’s PM Donald Tusk said: “We don’t say to the French that they have to close down their nuclear power industry and build windmills, and nobody can tell us the equivalent.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned against retreat, however, and EU president, José Manuel Barroso came to his support: "We’re not going to let up in the battle against climate change and there’s no question of picking between the financial crisis and climate change. The two go together."
The Guardian reports that "Eastern European countries, ex-communist states, want the richer nations in western Europe to carry more of the cost of cutting emissions and protection for their industries which are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, notably coal. Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia wanted at one point to scrap the December deadline."
The position of the British Tories is that there is no tension between climate change action and economic interests. Greg Clark MP set out his party’s position in the House of Commons yesterday:
"Conservative Members agree that the choice between ambitious and progressive action on carbon reduction and a successful, powerful economy is, in fact, not a choice at all—they are one and the same. Without decisive action, there is a risk that climate change will leach away huge resources from this country and every other nation on earth. The economic events of recent days have proved that catastrophic risk must be acted on rather than wished away."
But do EU announcements on climate change have any real currency? Many observers are sceptical of any targets announced by EU governments. The Daily Telegraph recorded Labour’s own lamentable record in a leading article today:
"There is a lot of ministerial hot air about these targets; new ones are announced long before it is apparent whether existing ones are realistic or achievable. In 1997, the Government said it was going to "reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 per cent on 1990 levels by 2010". By 2003 this had become an aspiration to "move towards a 20 per cent reduction…" By 2005, it was saying that "emissions of all greenhouse gases would be around 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010". In 2006 a target was set for "all new homes to be zero carbon within a decade" but in the first month of 2008, just three zero carbon homes were built. The Government then pledged to reduce carbon dioxide by 60 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050, which Mr Miliband has now said should rise to 80 per cent in line with a recommendation delivered just last week by the Government-appointed Climate Change Committee. When the 60 per cent target was first recommended by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, it implicitly included emissions from aviation. But Mr Miliband now says aviation and shipping will be excluded, though specific proposals for achieving this tougher target have still to be published."