Climate expert urges EU to take action

BRUSSELS — The European Union should agree on a strong package of measures to tackle greenhouse gas emissions even if that means making special concessions to satisfy reluctant countries like Poland, according to Nicholas Stern, one of the world’s foremost authorities on climate change.

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«It’s absolutely crucial that they hold together on this,» Stern said Tuesday in a interview by telephone. «Now is not the time for Europe to go flaky.»

Stern gained international stature in 2006 when Tony Blair, then the British prime minister, presented Stern’s report on the economics of climate change. Stern said Tuesday that he was concerned about discord among EU countries over proposed laws that would raise costs for companies like coal-burning utilities and for countries like Poland, one of the bloc’s heaviest polluters.

Policy leaders like Stern say that negotiations next month aiming to lay the groundwork for a new global emissions treaty are more likely to succeed if the EU agrees to an ambitious package of measures. Such an agreement would send a strong message to the rest of the world, including developing countries like China and India, that richer countries are prepared to do their part to cut greenhouse gases.

But efforts to bring aboard Poland and other skeptical nations have failed. In particular, Poland and other coal-dependent EU members in Eastern Europe oppose plans to require power stations to buy all their emissions permits starting in 2013.

They say the requirement would raise energy prices while lowering economic growth. Most permits are given away free.

Last week, Poland rejected as too onerous a proposal to continue the free distribution half its permits for generating electricity until 2016.

«I do think Poland’s needs need to be taken into account,» Stern said, because it would be far less costly than taking action later.

EU nations still could reach a compromise before a European summit meeting in mid-December. But the disagreement highlights how difficult it may be to overcome the tendency of sovereign nations to protect their industries under an expanded global carbon-trading system that will be under discussion at the meeting, to be held in Poznan, Poland.

International deals aside, Stern said, «people are willing and keen for the own governments to get on with» cutting emissions through direct measures. Stern said that was borne out by a study of global attitudes on climate change to be released Wednesday by the bank HSBC, where Stern is a special adviser on economic development and climate change.

The research was based on a 20-minute Internet survey of 12,000 respondents divided equally among 12 countries — including Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Britain and the United States — from mid-September to early October.

Nearly twice as many respondents said they wanted governments to invest in ways of curbing greenhouse gas emissions than to pursue international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol.

Respondents also said governments should focus more on increasing investment in renewable energy, halting deforestation and conserving water resources than on carbon markets or taxes.