Climate change: EU eyes new green energy targets

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Media captionBen Wright looks ahead to the EU summit

An EU summit has begun in Brussels aiming for agreement on carbon emission cuts that could make Europe a global leader again in climate policy.

The European Commission has proposed a 40% cut in CO2 emissions by 2030.

The EU also aims to boost the use of renewable energy to 27% in the total energy mix.

Europe's reliance on Russian gas has become a hot topic because of the Ukraine crisis, besides the climate impact of CO2.

The leaders will also seek to boost measures to stop the spread of Ebola. The UK is expected to urge its EU partners to send more medics and equipment to West Africa, in line with the UK's help for Sierra Leone.

"I hope this summit will address the risks that we face, the crisis of Ebola," UK Prime Minister David Cameron said as he arrived at the summit. "Britain has been leading the way over Sierra Leone. We need other European countries to do more."

Mr Cameron said the second risk was the economy. "We're not immune to the economic problems elsewhere in Europe. We want to hear about the plans the others have."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the climate talks "will not be easy".

But French President Francois Hollande believed an agreement was in sight: "If there is not a deal in Brussels amongst the most advanced countries in this area, how can we persuade other countries?"

Small business concerns

EU officials say the 28-nation bloc aims to have an "ambitious position" to take to the UN climate change conference in Paris in December 2015.

But many European politicians want their countries to retain flexibility in meeting energy targets, without having strict rules imposed at EU level.

There are particular worries about the impact of energy costs on small and medium-sized businesses amid widespread economic stagnation in Europe and high unemployment.

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Image caption The UK is backing shale gas as an alternative to over-reliance on imports of gas and oil

The Commission has also set an energy efficiency target for 2030 - a 30% cut in energy use.

Globally the EU does not want to be at a competitive disadvantage compared with rising powers - especially China and India - which have not signed up to Europe's green agenda.

Poland, heavily reliant on coal, fears that the costs of decarbonising its economy will slow business growth. Its concerns are echoed by other East European countries.

Like them, the UK also opposes nationally binding targets for renewables - mainly wind, solar and hydroelectric power. The UK is also embracing shale gas and nuclear as alternatives to the current over-reliance on oil and gas imports.

The environmental group Greenpeace argues that the EU targets are not ambitious enough, because energy use has already dropped with the closure of industrial plants and drastic cuts in government spending.

It wants a 45% target for renewables in the energy market and says such a goal would provide businesses with incentives to invest in new, cleaner technologies, which could also create more jobs.

The collapse of the carbon price has undermined the EU's Emissions Trading System, designed to cut CO2 emissions.

The idea originally was to make it expensive for big polluters to buy carbon permits from greener industries. But critics say there is insufficient incentive to stop polluting.

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