EU assembly backs climate emissions trading plan
Author: Robin Pomeroy
The policy is a cornerstone of the European Union's strategy to reduce the gas emissions, blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere, which it agreed to cut under the 1997 Kyoto treaty.
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom called the action a "major step forward towards implementing the Kyoto protocol within the EU".
Under the bill, from 2005 most heavy industries will be granted emissions permits by their governments, setting ceilings on their outputs. If they exceed a maximum emissions level, they will be allowed to buy extra credits from less polluting firms.
The bill will be discussed by EU environment ministers next week. EU governments have joint legislative powers on the issue with the European Parliament.
In a key amendment, Parliament voted to allow member states to let their industries opt out of the scheme until the end of 2007 - a change that would allow an existing, voluntary, emissions trading scheme in Britain to continue.
Such an opt out would only be allowed if member states could make the same emissions cuts as they would under the EU scheme.
Britain launched its trading system this year, offering financial incentives for firms that volunteered to take part.
According to British Liberal Democrat Euro MP Chris Davies, who pushed for the change, some 6,000 companies are taking part in the scheme including heavyweights like Shell UK, Blue Circle Industries and British Airways.
NO THATCHERITE OPT-OUT
Wallstrom has said that Britain would have to adapt its scheme once the EU system was in place, threatening the British scheme's voluntary nature.
Environment Minister Michael Meacher told a conference in Brussels on Thursday that industry and lawmakers needed time to learn how such a radical new scheme would work, but that Britain would move to a mandatory system in time.
Despite the possible opt-out offered by the amendment, Greens in Parliament were pleased by the vote which brings the EU a step closer to creating the world's first coordinated greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme.
Dutch Green Alex de Roo said that for the trading to begin in 2005 EU ministers must agree to its principles during their meeting next week, but that he expected Germany to resist.
Parliament said the scheme should include all six greenhouse gases covered under Kyoto, rather than restricting it to the main one, carbon dioxide, as proposed by the Commission.