Proposals to toughen the European Union's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target were rejected by MEPs after amendments inserted by conservative members scuppered the report during yesterday's plenary session in Strasbourg.
The original resolution, prepared by Green MEP Bas Eickhout, called on the EU to commit to a 30 per cent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 – instead of the current target of 20 per cent. But the report was weakened by amendments, passed by just nine votes, which the Greens and Socialists said meant they were no longer able to vote in favour. As a result the resolution was rejected by 347 votes to 258 with 63 abstentions.
Dutchman Eickhout said: "It is with great regret that I was forced to recommend MEPs to reject my own report after it was hijacked by amendments from conservative and centre-right MEPs. The amendments, which passed by the tightest of majorities, would have meant the final report was a step back from previous positions adopted by the European Parliament and, as a result, the least-worst option was to prevent the report being adopted." In November last year the parliament recommended that the emissions target should be increased to 30 per cent, and following yesterday's vote that remains its position. Eickhout's original report would have gone further, demanding that the new target be imposed unilaterally.
The amendments were inserted by Salvatore Tateralla, a member of the centre-right European People's Party – the largest group of MEPs in the parliament. Tateralla said: "This is not the time to recommend a further increase in the threshold for reducing emissions and the unreasonable inflexibility of the Greens and Socialists has come up against the vote of the plenary. I hope that today's vote can make those political groups that voted against take a more cautious and realistic approach."
After the vote much of the blame was laid at the feet of 17 British Conservative MEPs who defied their party leadership to swing the votes after Prime Minister David Cameron said he supported the higher target. Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MEP for North West England, said: "David Cameron hugged a husky and said the Tories had changed. But now we see that many of his party supporters treated this with complete cynicism. Tory votes have made all the difference today. David Cameron tried to lead his MEPs and they have refused to follow. It is an embarrassment both for Britain and for environmentalists within the Conservative Party." Cameron had previously promised to "work on" his group of MEPs to persuade them to support the report.Green MEP Keith Taylor
, who represents South East England, said it showed "a real lack of political will by the right wing parties to act now to halt climate change. The UK coalition government says it supported higher EU greenhouse gas emissions targets but when it came to the crunch the Conservatives were not willing to commit. This is a real failure to grasp an opportunity to bring environmental and economic benefits to countries across Europe." The Greens cited findings by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research which indicate that a 30 per cent target could increase economic output by 0.6 per cent and create six million European jobs by 2020.
And the Socialists and Democrats described the changes made to the report by conservatives as "unacceptable". Spokesman Dan Jørgensen said: "Conservatives have given in to pressure from the strong lobbying of Business Europe. They still don't understand that our fight against climate change is not only good for the environment but also an effective stimulus for the EU economy and job creation. Eco-industries employ approximately 3.4 million people." A number of EU member states continue to call for a 30 per cent target to be implemented.