Saturday, 13 December 2008


The barbed wire around the Council of Ministers' building has been taken away and the nerves of yesterday have been replaced by a pleasurable sense of achievement.

Europe's prime ministers yesterday agreed a series of measures known as the climate change and energy package, intended to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 (30% if international agreement is secured) through energy saving, increased renewable energy provision, and investment decisions shaped by the EU's emissions trading scheme.

Messy compromises were needed to win the support necessary, yet the deal still represents the most advanced series of measures agreed anywhere in the world.

But the only thing I was interested in was whether the Council would back the proposals I had succeeded in putting on the table. These were to use 'spare' carbon allowances to fund investment in the development of carbon capture and storage technology.

Snippets of information leaked out from contacts inside the building. At 1pm, news was that the draft summit conclusions called for the use of 200 million allowances, enough to raise €4-5 billion, with each billion estimated to be enough to support one CCS commercial demonstration project somewhere in Europe.

NOT ENOUGH! Better than nothing, of course, but insufficient to take forward the minimum number of projects needed to test and develop the full range of potential technologies. Rude words of despair mixed with consolation were exchanged over mobile phones.
The end-of-summit press conference began. Sarkozy saying the deal was great for Europe (and thereby for French leadership!).

Then a call from the Reuters correspondent in the Council's press room. One diplomat has just said the number had gone up to 300. Story needed to be confirmed. Apparently some detailed negotiations were still going on.

Half an hour later another call. Three sources had now confirmed, would I like to give a quote? "This should raise €6-7 billion," I said, "it's the bare minimum needed but it's enough to do the job."

Inside the meeting, I learnt later, Gordon Brown, pushed hard by John Ashton, the Foreign Secretary's special adviser on climate change and the man who got me involved with CCS in the first place, had insisted that 200 was not enough. Britain was supported by the Netherlands, but these positions were well rehearsed and the intervention of others was needed to break the logjam. Astonishingly it came from Italy (Berlusconi had left by this time). Merkel of Germany came out in favour. Sweden, Romania, and others indicated that 300 at least was acceptable. If the French had put 350 on the table, as the European Parliament had sought, we could well have got it.

So all credit to Gordon Brown. I may have put the ball on the spot, but he kicked it into the goal.
Congratulations filtered through as the news got out. "This is a huge step forward," said John. "It's comparable to the Apollo programme. It makes possible the idea of zero carbon power production using fossil fuels. As a step towards fighting climate change its importance is incalculable."

"Get your daughter, and tell her what her father has done," said Jules Kortenhorst of the European Climate Foundation, bringing tears to my eyes.

I feel choked about some of this. I know that the only reason this financial package has been put in place is because I became the CCS rapporteur in the Parliament last February and I made it my priority to find a way forward on the issue of funding the technology. I didn't have to do it, it wasn't part of the legislative brief, and someone else probably would not have been interested in the challenge.

The result is without any question the greatest political achievement of my life.

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