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September 6, 2008

European Union calculating the cost of fighting climate change

How much will it cost the European Union to fight global climate change? Clearly the answer depends on what your target is, how you propose to get there and the size of the EU's contribution compared with those of the US, China and so on. But a new report from the Centre for European Policy Studies offers some useful estimates.

It assesses six recent studies, from the UK's Stern review of the economic impact of climate change and a World Bank analysis to research prepared by Vattenfall, the Swedish energy company. In these reports, the average annual global costs for mitigating and adapting to climate change are put at anything from €230bn to €614bn, based on 2006 data.

The EU is not, these days, one of the world's great polluters. In 2004, the global economy emitted about 49bn tons of greenhouse gases (measured in carbon dioxide equivalent). The share of the 27-nation bloc was only 5.2bn tons, or 10.6 per cent.

However, as western Europe is one of the world's richest areas, and as Europe has historical responsibility for the CO 2 emissions of its industrial heyday, the EU will surely have to pay more than 10.6 per cent of the global costs of fighting climate change.

According to the CEPS study, the smallest bill the EU could expect to pick up is €24.4bn a year, while the biggest is €194.3bn. The think-tank's own estimate, based on what it calls "the limited likelihood of a global burden-sharing according to current emissions", is that the EU will face annual costs of at least €60bn.

This figure is close to the forecast provided by the European Commission last January, when it published its all-encompassing proposals on energy and climate change policy. At the time, the Commission said €60bn - or about 0.5 per cent of the EU's annual gross domestic product - might seem a lot of money, but the cost of doing nothing would be even higher.

Has the message got through to Germany's car manufacturers and their friends in the European Parliament?

This week, the legislature's industry committee tried to weaken a Commission proposal for capping CO2 emissions from new cars. Rather than imposing a target of 130 grammes per kilometre on all new cars by 2012, the committee voted to apply it to only 60 per cent of new cars and to delay full introduction of the target until 2015. The vote was unmistakably aimed at helping German carmakers, whose models are bigger and less green than those of France and Italy.

This is, of course, hardly the last word on the subject. The parliamentary committee's vote isn't binding. But when it comes to converting the EU's high-sounding principles on climate change into concrete legislation, the devil is always in the detail.

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