EU faces testing time over global warming

Europe's high-minded attempt to save the world from global warming faces its most severe test today when environment ministers from the 15 European Union states meet in Brussels.

The EU is united in believing that it should set the pace among all industrialised nations in cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, which come from burning coal, oil and gas. But when it comes to deciding the cut that each state should make, the squabbling begins.

The Dutch presidency has come up with a complex "burden-sharing" system which proposes maximum annual emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, for each EU state. The poorer Mediterranean countries with lower use of fossil fuels are allowed to increase their emissions between 2000 and 2010 as they industrialise. Portugal is allowed the biggest gain - 25 per cent.

But Germany is ordered to cut its carbon-dioxide output by 30 per cent, Denmark by 25 per cent and the United Kingdom by 20 per cent under plans based largely on a formula which folds in each country's wealth, industrial structure and energy use.

Nine out of the 15 EU states have refused to accept their proposed allocation of carbon-dioxide emissions. The Dutch awarded themselves a 10 per cent cut between 2000 and 2010. "The majority feeling is that if anyone got off lightly, the Dutch did," one British negotiator said.

Today, European environment ministers will try to break the impasse. Other rich countries round the world will be watching, because for years Europe has forced their pace on tackling the threat of man-made climate change and rising sea levels.

The members of OECD, the wealthy club of industrialised nations, have promised to curb their rising emissions in the first decades of the next century. The EU ministers are under great pressure to reach an agreement because there are Climate Treaty negotiations involving more than 100 nations in Bonn this week. If the European bloc cannot make up its mind, the global talks will drift towards inaction.