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UK battles stringent limits on emissions

February 16, 2006 By Philip Ball This article courtesy of Nature News.

Europe is set to refuse Britain's request to emit more carbon dioxide.

The European Commission looks set to refuse Britain's request to emit an additional 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year over an agreed limit, after a more than year-long petition. The refusal will leave UK power plants with a lower limit for emissions than they may have liked.

The confusion over the United Kingdom's allowable emissions has been hanging over the pioneering European emissions trading scheme since its launch in January 2005.

Under this plan, the member states of the European Union (EU) are committed to restricting their emissions of carbon dioxide to an agreed limit. Each country hands out its national allocation to its installations that emit carbon dioxide (mainly power plants). Those installations are then free to buy and sell carbon credits with others in the EU to help meet their limits and economic goals. If limits aren't met, fines are imposed.

The idea is that by setting up an economic market for carbon, overall emissions of carbon dioxide throughout Europe should go down without compromising industrial competitiveness.

Missed deadline

The United Kingdom is an enthusiastic supporter of the EU scheme. But it has fallen foul of the commission, which oversees the carbon-trading arrangements, with a mix-up over their agreed limit.

Britain initially submitted a plan asking for an allowance of 736 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, and this was conditionally approved in July 2004. But then in November 2004, after further calculations, the government asked to bump up the allowance by an extra 20 million tonnes. The commission says this request came too late, after a September deadline, so Britain had to make do with the lower number.

The UK government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that it had always made clear that the emissions allowances requested in the original plan were provisional. The British government appealed to the European Court of First Instance, which ruled that the commission should consider the United Kingdom's case. But now it looks like the consideration will end with a resounding 'no'.

It's been working well so far.
Barbara Helfferich
European Commission.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said on 15 February that he intended to reject Britain's request for additional emissions. "There cannot be this 20 million," Dimas said.

Close spectators

Barbara Helfferich, a EC spokeswoman on the environment, says that the European scheme "is welcomed by industry as the most cost-effective way of meeting the Kyoto targets."

"It has been working well for a year," she adds. From January to November 2005, the scheme generated about 3 billion euros worth of trading.

As the first major experiment on this approach to mitigating climate change, it is being watched closely by other nations. Norway has expressed interest in joining, Helfferich says, while Canada and Japan are considering whether they should implement their own schemes.

The glitch with the United Kingdom's limits has been closely followed by those interested in the scheme.

A final decision on Britain's limits is expected soon. Helfferich says that the UK government could still choose to appeal the decision.

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