Climate tax on imports to split commissioners
Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson this week warned that a French-style carbon tax would undermine international climate change co-operation and run into WTO problems. His spokesman said the trade chief was also likely to oppose a sector-specific border levy of the sort suggested in the communication. “Legally we have to watch out for any discriminatory border taxation…and Mr Mandelson’s essential message is that the politics of punitive measures gets the climate change message wrong. It will not encourage the necessary co-operation from our trade partners.”Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen in a November letter to his peers said he would support a CO2 import tax. A spokesman for Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs refused to comment.The paper will suggest making the fight against climate change Europe’s top international priority. It says that international climate change discussions “must move beyond rhetoric towards negotiations on concrete commitments”. It says that even poor countries should face emission-reduction measures by 2020. Developed countries should commit themselves to a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020, the paper says.A separate paper reviewing overall energy strategy, also for publication on 10 January, will suggest asking the EU to reduce its CO2 emissions from energy use by 20% by 2020, 35% by 2030 and 50% by 2050.Nuclear power and clean coal, using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, will also get support. Improved CCS technologies are needed because “it is not in Europe’s security of supply or economic interest for coal-fired generation to die out”, according to the paper. The strategy paper warns that reducing nuclear power in the EU will make it hard to meet CO2 emission reduction targets. It recommends that Europe should “further develop the most advanced framework for nuclear energy in those member states that chose nuclear power”. The draft warns that any levy adopted would have to be compatible with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and should not restrict international trade.The idea of a levy was floated in a discussion paper prepared by the Commission’s enterprise department in the early autumn and has now been picked up and promoted in the climate change paper.The “most likely” solution, it suggests, would be to impose a border levy system on “the industrial sectors which are both heavy emitters and subject to international competition (eg, aluminium, iron and steel, cement, refineries, pulp and paper)”.A Commission official said the levy idea was only a suggestion and the Commission intended to look at the pros and cons before publishing any concrete recommendations to follow the communication. The Commission is now studying the compatibility of a border carbon levy with WTO rules. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas called for a decision “without delay”.The Commission’s plan falls short of a French call to tax all imports from countries which do not face CO2 reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. A Commission paper on climate change, prepared by the transport and energy department, advocates a “border carbon levy that would put imported products on a competitive footing identical to that of domestically produced goods”. This could affect large exporting countries such as China and the US, which are not subject to the same carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction targets as the EU.The paper will be discussed by the College of commissioners on 10 January as part of the Commission’s energy review.The communication on long-term climate change policy options calls on the EU to look at “all possible ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.