Outside editorial: Europe's proposal

Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The European Union announced a new plan last week to combat global warming that would set firm caps on emissions by 27 countries. The initiative might be seen as widening the gap on climate change between Europe and the United States, given the Bush administration's refusal to consider such binding measures. But that's premature: In fact, the proposal in many ways mirrors initiatives under discussion in Congress and could be the beginning of a harmonization of climate change policy between Brussels and Washington.

Between 2013 and 2020, the E.U. plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels. Gone are the national action plans that saw countries adopt schemes that protected local industries. Instead, the European Union would set individual national caps to meet the overall goal. The reduction would be bumped up to 30 percent if the United States and China signed binding climate change agreements.

The plan would correct the faults of the previous cap-and-trade system, which gave away carbon emissions allowances and led to windfall profits for polluters while producing little in reductions. The new proposal would put a price on carbon by auctioning 60 percent of the emissions permits initially and all of them by 2020. There is a mandatory target that 20 percent of E.U. energy be derived from renewable sources, including 10 percent from biofuels. Overall, 60 percent of the European Union's total greenhouse emissions would be covered by the plan.

Many of these provisions link up with those in the American cap-and-trade bill advocated by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., and John W. Warner, R-Va. They would mandate a reduction by 2020 of about 20 percent below greenhouse gas emissions in 2005. The number of allowances withheld from emitters and used for auctioning and other purposes would start at 57 percent of the total emissions permits and rise to 100 percent by 2031. The Lieberman-Warner bill would cover 87 percent of total U.S. emissions. Development of commercial-scale carbon capture and sequestration projects and a mandate of fuel producers to use 36 billion gallons in biofuels by 2022 were provisions of the energy bill Mr. Bush signed into law last year.

The E.U. plan is a long way from implementation; the hurdles include approval by the European Parliament. So is the Lieberman-Warner bill, given President Bush's stubborn and dismaying resistance to binding targets in the face of mounting evidence that aggressive action is required now. The Bush administration is hosting another meeting of large economies Wednesday in Honolulu to discuss initiatives on global warming. It would be a good occasion to commit the United States to taking action comparable to that of Europe.

The world is looking to the United States for leadership on global warming. Without it, developing nations such as China and India have no reason to be a part of the solution. Until Mr. Bush gets on board, his efforts such as the one about to get under way in Honolulu will be nothing more than photo-ops.

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