EU leaders warned over climate change

The world is fast approaching a “catastrophic tipping point” on climate change that could have a major impact on economic growth and security, Tony Blair has said.

In a letter to EU leaders ahead of a meeting in Finland today, the prime minister called for a “genuine in-depth debate” about climate change, insisting it was crucial to the security of Europe’s energy supply.

Heads of government from the 25 EU member states are meeting in Lahti today to discuss energy security, and will be holding talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin this evening about Europe’s reliance on his country’s oil and gas.

Brussels wants Russia to sign an energy charter, which it hopes would open up the country’s rich supply of fossil fuels, but Mr Putin is said to be reluctant.

Europe currently imports more than half its energy, but this is set to rise to 70 per cent by 2030. It is hoping to improve the security of supply of Russian oil and gas, particularly in the wake of Russia’s blockage of former Soviet state Georgia.

In his letter, which was drawn up jointly with Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende, Mr Blair notes the importance of energy security but says any debate on the subject must also be about climate change and its links to the European economy.

Europe and the rest of the world were facing a “shared dilemma”, they said – to ensure economic growth but safeguard sources of energy required for that growth. As a result, energy security and climate security must be treated as “two sides of the same coin.”

They warned: “We have a window of only ten to 15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points.

“These would have serious consequences for our economic growth prospects, the safety of our people and the supply of resources, most notably energy. So we must act quickly.”

The European Union must be a “frontrunner” on the issue of climate change, Mr Blair and Mr Balkenende argued.

They call for a strengthening of the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), including its expansion to new sectors such as aviation, a tightening of the carbon emissions allowed to each industry, and even an expansion of the scheme beyond Europe.

The union’s plan for energy efficiency, including agreements to reduce the amount of energy used by TVs and radios while they are on standby, should be introduced as a “priority”, and the EU must also continue to invest in renewable energies.

They also call for greater cooperation with developing countries, saying: “We have a chance to build much more ambitious energy partnerships with China, India and others that will leverage our market power with theirs and potentially set the technology standards for a global low carbon economy.

“Developing alternative sources of energy will also make any country less dependent on external supplies. And this policy will also help us meet our climate change objectives.”

Taking action would require “courage and imagination”, the letter concluded, but it noted: “A historic political choice faces us.

“The need to respond to climate change can be seen as a burden. Or it can be seen as a once in a generation opportunity for Europe to mobilise the political will and resources to transform and modernise our energy system.”