EU Energy and Environment Correspondent
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Mar 15, 2010

EU to discuss Greek aid, no firm figures seen

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Euro zone finance ministers are expected to agree a way of providing Greece with financial aid to tackle its debts on Monday, but France warned not to expect any hard figures and there remained barriers to a deal.

The 16 countries that use the euro single currency have provided strong verbal and political support to Greece since its debt and deficit problems exploded three months ago, but have not agreed on the need for a package of financial aid.

Mar 15, 2010

EU finmins to discuss Greek aid, no firm figures seen

BRUSSELS, March 15 (Reuters) – Euro zone finance ministers
are expected to agree a way of providing Greece with financial
aid to tackle its debts on Monday, but France warned not to
expect any hard figures and there remained barriers to a deal.

The 16 countries that use the euro single currency have
provided strong verbal and political support to Greece since its
debt and deficit problems exploded three months ago, but have
not agreed on the need for a package of financial aid.

Mar 14, 2010

Greek bailout tops EU finance ministers’ agenda

BRUSSELS, March 14 (Reuters) – Finance ministers from
countries using the euro hope to agree on Monday on a way of
providing heavily indebted Greece with financial aid, despite
French and German doubts that a deal will be reached.

European policymakers are discussing how to help Greece and
protect the 16-country currency zone but so far have not backed
promises of political support with financial aid. Germany,
Europe’s biggest economy, has resisted bailout pledges.

Mar 12, 2010

Big auto and EU face off over green van targets

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europe’s vanmakers have gone a long way toward meeting proposals to curb climate-warming emissions, but as debate on the 2016 targets kicks off big auto is seen digging its heels in over the last mile.

European Union ministers meet next week to start the debate, with automakers saying it will be a costly burden at a time when Europe is struggling to emerge from the deepest economic crisis in 80 years.

Mar 9, 2010

EU climate chief wants Europe to “lead by example”

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europe’s new climate chief sought to reinvigorate international climate talks on Tuesday, laying out a strategy for the EU to lead the world by example.

With talks blocked by inaction in the United States, the global economic crisis and mounting skepticism over climate science, Connie Hedegaard said the EU would demonstrate how to meet its green goals while creating jobs and boosting economies.

Mar 9, 2010

EU faces court challenge over biofuel reports

BRUSSELS, March 9 (Reuters) – Four environmental groups have sued the European Union’s executive for withholding documents they say will add to a growing dossier of evidence that biofuels harm the environment and push up food prices.

The lawsuit, lodged with the EU’s General Court, the bloc’s second highest court, alleges several violations of European laws on transparency and democracy.

But the European Commission countered that the action was premature as it had not formally refused access and had already released many of the 8,000 pages requested.

The suit was filed on Monday by ClientEarth, Transport & Environment, the European Environmental Bureau, and BirdLife International.

"That the Commission should choose to deny our rights on such a critical issue as the science underpinning our climate policies is astounding," said Tim Grabiel, staff attorney at ClientEarth.

At stake is the EU’s commitment to its goal of getting a tenth of its road fuels from renewable sources such as biofuels by 2020 — a target that has spawned an EU industry worth around 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) a year and a big market for imports from Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The four groups first sought access to the documents on Oct. 15, and said the European Commission missed a legal deadline to release them under freedom of information laws on Feb. 9. Some reports have been released, but not all.

"Formally, the applicant is entitled to bring these proceedings," said Commission spokesman Mark Gray. "However, we made it perfectly clear that we are not rejecting her application, but are carrying out a concrete and individual assessment of the requested documents."

"The issue is whether the Commission can be expected to handle such bulky and complex requests within the normal time frames," Gray added.

A similar request by Reuters has led to the release of 118 reports and e-mails, which reveal worries within the Commission that the EU set its 10 percent goal before fully assessing the impact of biofuel targets.



MAKING MATTERS WORSE

Some of the documents raise the prospect of higher EU farm incomes, but cite concerns that plant-based biofuels could create food shortages for the world’s poorest.

Others suggest biofuels can drive up demand for land, encouraging farmers in tropical areas to expand cropland into sensitive areas such as wetlands and rainforests — which would have a detrimental impact on the environment.

Burning forests can release enough carbon dioxide to cancel out any benefits sought from the biofuels.

One leaked email says that taking account of biofuels’ full carbon footprint could "kill" their role in the EU.

"Current EU biofuels policy guarantees that Europe will use lots of biofuels, but it doesn’t guarantee reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — in fact it seems likely it will make things worse," said Nusa Urbancic of transport campaign group T&E.

"The first step to fixing this broken policy must be full transparency about what the true impacts are," she said.

The case is not the Commission’s only wrangle with environment groups over access to environmental documents.

The EU’s internal watchdog, ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, recently criticised the Commission for not releasing three letters that German car company Porsche had sent to former industry commissioner Guenther Verheugen.

The case originated with a complaint from Friends of the Earth Europe, which was trying to get hold of the documents as part of the debate over legislation to curb carbon emissions from cars. (Reporting by Pete Harrison; Editing by Amanda Cooper)




Mar 5, 2010

EU tempers hopes of binding climate deal this year

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union executive is tempering its hopes of securing a legally binding climate deal in talks this year culminating in Cancun, Mexico, focusing instead on a 2011 summit in South Africa, a source said.

“The realistic approach is to aim for deliverables in the Bonn and Cancun meetings this year, and then to aim for a legally binding agreement in South Africa,” the European Commission source said on condition of anonymity.

Mar 4, 2010

EU climate funding threatened

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s development chief may be forced to name and shame France, Germany and Italy for not living up to their aid commitments, contributing to a roughly $17 billion funding gap this year.

Andris Piebalgs warned in January he would clearly identify EU countries that failed to meet their aid commitments.

Mar 4, 2010

EU drafts reveal biofuel’s “environmental damage”

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Biodiesel and other “green” fuels that Europeans put in their cars can have unintended consequences for tropical forests and wetlands, European Union reports show — the first evidence of EU misgivings.

The EU aims for its 500 million citizens to get about a tenth of their road fuels from renewable sources such as biofuels by 2020, but some EU officials want the target reduced in a review in four years time.

Mar 4, 2010

EU drafts reveal biofuel’s "environmental damage"

BRUSSELS, March 4 (Reuters) – Biodiesel and other "green" fuels that Europeans put in their cars can have unintended consequences for tropical forests and wetlands, European Union reports show — the first evidence of EU misgivings.

The EU aims for its 500 million citizens to get about a tenth of their road fuels from renewable sources such as biofuels by 2020, but some EU officials want the target reduced in a review in four years time.

Modelling exercises are starting to show unwanted impacts spreading across the planet via commodity markets.

"The simulated effects of EU biofuels policies imply a considerable shock to agricultural commodity markets," warns one draft report produced to advise policymakers.

"Current and future support of biofuels…is likely to accelerate the expansion of land under crops, particularly in Latin America and Asia," warns another, one of 116 documents released to Reuters under freedom of information laws. More are still awaited.

"It carries the risk of significant and hardly reversible environmental damages," adds the draft.

The warnings are not new. Environmentalists have been making them for years.

But the impact studies and emails show for the first time that European policymakers are also seriously worried about the impact on tropical forests, wetlands and savannah. However, they are struggling to quantify the likely damage.

"The large amount of documents and their detailed content show the Commission have been considering indirect land use change impacts very seriously," said a spokeswoman for European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

"There is no definitive and official answer on the size or character of this issue at this stage," she added.

Lobbyists from bioethanol industry group, ebio, have seized on the confusion, demanding policymakers "reject the concept".

Meanwhile, in the European Commission, which instigates EU policy, officials are split over the wisdom of continuing with a target that was set in 2008 and already prompted billions of dollars of investment globally.

One internal letter from an agriculture official warns that taking account of the full carbon footprint of biofuels could "kill" an EU industry worth about 5 billion euros a year ($6.8 billion).



LAND USE CHANGE

At the centre of the debate is an issue drily referred to as "indirect land use change", which has put palm oil producers in Malaysia and Indonesia in the cross-hairs of environmentalists.

Critics say that regardless of where they are grown, biofuels compete for land with food crops, forcing farmers worldwide to expand into areas never farmed before — sometimes by hacking into tropical rainforest or draining peatlands.

Satisfying the EU’s thirst for biofuels would need 5.2 million hectares of land by 2020, reads one report — a bigger area than the Netherlands. But where to find that land?

Burning forests to clear the land can pump vast quantities of climate-warming emissions into the atmosphere, cancelling out any theoretical climate benefit from the fuel. Iconic species such as Orangutans are also put under renewed pressure.

"Many decades may be needed before the initial induced carbon losses are compensated by the savings due to greater biofuel use," reads one draft study by agriculture experts.

Draining peatlands can have a similar impact as soils rot and release methane gas into the atmosphere.

If just 2.4 percent of European biofuels came from palm oil grown on former peatlands, for example in Indonesia, the entire climate benefits of EU biodiesel would be wiped out, says a report by the Commission’s own research centre.

"The problems are only going to get worse unless the EU rewrites its law to allow only biofuels that bring benefits to be sold in Europe," said campaigner Nusa Urbancic at environment group T&E. "This information must be brought out into the open so there can be a proper debate."

If the issue wasn’t complicated enough, policymakers will have to take account of numerous mitigating factors.

Increased demand for the cereals and oil seeds from which biofuels are made does not always result in farmers expanding agricultural land. Sometimes they can increase yield by using fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation.

Pressure on the land can also be relieved by using the spent grains from biofuels to feed animals — substituting some of the maize or other feed grains that might have otherwise been grown. (Editing by Sue Thomas)




    • About Pete

      "Pete Harrison is a Reuters correspondent in Brussels covering the European Union politics of energy, environment and climate change. He is also part of the Reuters team covering international talks to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol."
      Joined Reuters:
      Oct 2000
      Languages:
      English, French, Spanish
    • More from Pete

      Publications:
      Red Sea Diving Guide (Lonely Planet, 2004), Reef Fishes and Corals of the Red Sea (New Holland, 2002), Reefs of the Red Sea (Hurghada Environmental Protection Committee, 1998)
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