Ten days before the UN climate conference opens in Copenhagen, EU officials welcomed emissions pledges by China and the US as a crucial step towards an agreement, but stressed that the commitments had to match the developed world's "common target" of keeping global warming below 2°C.
"We will continue to urge the US, China and all our other partners in this negotiation to go to the outer limits of what is possible in order to find agreement in Copenhagen," said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso in reaction to the US and Chinese offers.
On Wednesday (25 November), the White House said the United States would pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions roughly 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 - a drop of about 3% below 1990 levels - and 83% by 2050.
China followed the US yesterday (26 November) by announcing it would reduce its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020 (EurActiv 26/11/09).
Although emerging economies like China are not obliged to promise similar targets to the US and the EU, Beijing's bid is seen in Europe as a first step. "I am pleased that the pledges are coming on the table now," Green MEP Bas Eickhout told EurActiv. "But I see them as opening bids. Copenhagen should be used to further strengthen them. Our climate asks for that."
The EU and the US have an historic responsibility for causing "more than 50%" of global warming, as a result of gases emitted since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, Eickhout argued. China, which embraced industrialisation much later, is only responsible for 5% of current warming, although it has now become the world's largest polluter, he added.
China's goal of reducing carbon intensity - the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per yuan of economic activity - by 40-45% by 2020 from 2005 levels still means its emissions will rise, but by less than economic growth.
"A relative target can be expected from China. The promise from China is doing exactly that," Eickhout said.
According to the Dutch MEP, Beijing could become more ambitious if the EU and US deliver cuts that are in line with scientists' recommendations. "Science is clear," he said. "Industrialised countries should deliver an absolute reduction target of 40% compared to 1990 levels to have a fair chance of staying below warming of 2°C."
As they stand, the EU and US pledges combined would add up to a total of 10% emission cuts compared to 1990 levels, Eickhout explained, saying this falls "way too short of this [2°C] target". By contrast, offers from other developed countries are way above the US pledge, averaging between -14 and -18% on 1990 levels by 2020, he said.
These include Japan, Norway and Russia as well as plans being discussed in South Korea, Indonesia and Brazil. With these comitments, the EU is "coming closer" to raising its offer by pledging to cut emissions by 30%, Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren said earlier this week. But he stressed that any agreement would cover only half of global emissions without similar commitments from the United States and China.
EU climate diplomacy push
Meanwhile, the EU is stepping up its climate diplomacy as the Copenhagen meeting approaches, with Commission President Barroso saying the issue will be discussed with Premier Wen Jiabao at the EU-China summit on Monday (30 November).
Next week a delegation of MEPs will travel to Washington to speak to their counterparts in the US Congress, in an attempt to push for more ambitious targets from Capitol Hill.
Last month, a Senate committee passed a measure calling for 20% cuts by 2020, but that is expected to be weakened as the legislation moves through other Senate committees.
In June, the House passed a bill aimed at CO2 emission reductions of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and sharper cuts in the following decades, using a cap-and-trade system.