By Aoife White Associated Press
BRUSSELS — European Union leaders today pledged to pay their “fair share” into a $74 billion annual fund to help developing nations fight climate change — but didn’t agree on how much Europe would actually contribute.
Evironmentalists blasted the 27-nation bloc for failing to seize a crucial high ground before a global treaty on climate change is negotiated in Copenhagen in December.
The money aims to tempt poor countries into backing tight greenhouse gas limits at the U.N. talks in Copenhagen and put more pressure on the world’s two largest polluters, China and the United States, to agree to emissions cuts.
Yet the EU failed to agree on an exact amount to give after nine poorer EU states balked at handing out aid when their own budgets were stretched to the limit by the global financial crisis.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who led the talks between EU leaders, said the funding promise “allows the European Union to continue taking the lead in the negotiations.”
“Let’s hope that others will now follow this,” he said.
The EU also promised new deeper cuts in its emissions of between 80 percent to 95 percent by 2050 if the Copenhagen talks reach an ambitious deal.
The leaders said they would not require EU states to contribute to the fund before 2013. Any payments toward the $7.3 billion to $10.3 billion a year it says developing nations should get from 2010 through 2012 would be voluntary.
But EU nations would have to pay into the fund from 2013 to 2020 — and talks will continue on how much each should give and what an overall figure would be.
Oxfam and Friends of the Earth said Europe’s pledge was not nearly enough, claiming both the EU and the U.S. should donate at least $52 billion a year.
The EU “failed to use this opportunity to put its money where its mouth is,” said Joris den Blanken of Greenpeace. President Barack Obama should now “step up and break the deadlock in negotiations.”
The Copenhagen summit is seen as a watershed moment for fighting climate change and for global cooperation, and for years the EU has been seeking out the moral high ground, challenging other powers — above all, the United States — to match Europe’s commitment.
With the U.S. hamstrung by Congress, which has yet to approve U.S. emissions targets, poorer countries are looking to the EU to set the pace that they expect other industrialized countries to match.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who will host the U.N. talks, said “this is not about money.”
“This is about reducing the manmade temperature rise,” he said. “We want to avoid poverty, farmland erosion and climate migration.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he and government ministers would lobby other nations worldwide to get a climate change pact, and said the EU’s move today made an accord in Copenhagen more likely.
“They make possible a Copenhagen deal that will encourage other countries to make themselves ambitious efforts,” Brown said. “We agreed that European Union and its member states are ready to contribute their fair share of the costs.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said “Europe will be determined and united” in Copenhagen, but he stressed that the economic stability of poor EU member states is “very important.”
Nine eastern EU members didn’t share the ambitions of richer EU nations, such as Britain and Sweden, for a climate deal that would add to mounting public debt: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania.
On the financial crisis, EU leaders are still grappling with huge debt they built up by rescuing banks and supporting their feeble economies. In a statement, they said they were not ready to withdraw economy stimulus programs and would wait until a recovery is “fully secured.”