Member states such as Poland have become concerned that if the Commission's roadmap for moving to a low carbon economy becomes official policy, it will lead to factories relocating outside the EU. On 15 March a report broadly supporting it was approved in Plenary. We spoke to British Liberal Democrat Chris Davies who is guiding the plan through Parliament. He understands why some might be uneasy but points out that "setting targets drives change".
The Commission adopted its "Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050" in March 2011, which aims to reduce domestic carbon emissions by 80 to 95%. However when EU environment ministers met on 9 March, Poland rejected the road map saying the EU should wait for other countries to take similar measures first.
What does a low carbon economy look like?
Last week I went to a construction site in Carlisle where they were building a new supermarket. They were drilling holes of about 56 meters deep for pipes that will be used to pump water in. The water would be naturally heated by passage through the earth at that depth. It is a very simple system that will provide heat for the supermarket and save more than €100,000 a year. It will pay itself back in five years. That is a beautiful example of applying the principles of the low carbon economy.
It's the low carbon agenda that has changed mindsets and adjusted priorities. It is astonishing to see how many savings businesses have made by improving their energy efficiency, which could been made decades ago.
In your report you claim that Europe must develop a sense of urgency or it will risk losing the race to maintain a competitive economy. How do you suggest to speed up the decision making process?
In the case of Europe, this is a very difficult matter. We are a series of advanced democracies that promote public participation which slows down the decision-making process. In China, for instance, the government set a number of goals for factories to reduce their energy consumption and those that did not meet the targets simply had to stop production by the next month. We do not have this kind of command and control system to push things on. There has to be a greater sense of urgency. In order to turn the oil tanker, we need to slow down and put it into reverse as quickly as possible.
What is the impact of current crisis and austerity measures on the willingness of countries such as Poland to commit to carbon-reduction milestones?
Climate issues are not a great priority at the moment. There is a danger in this. We need to make these changes and there have to be international agreements. A power station will be operational for 20-30 years, so to reach energy efficiency goals set for 2050 you have to start planning now. You should give a clear framework to investors who are planning to make a return over that long period of time. Investors won't believe you if you allow for power stations to be built now and in five years' time you apply new regulations to reduce CO2 emissions. It will make the EU look bad
The Polish environment minister had some very fair arguments on 9 March. We boast about the fact that we will reduce our emissions by more than 20% by 2020, but this will be achieved by exporting some of our carbon-emitting manufacturing, while still importing the products. So in global terms, we make no difference at all. However, setting targets does drive change. You see this in the car industry more than anywhere else. We set targets to reduce CO2 emissions from passenger cars. Four years after the legislation came into force the car industry is ahead of the game by reducing CO2 levels every year. Everyone buying a new car gets more kilometres per litre of fuel and the prices have come down. So for consumers it is a win/win situation..