The EU has approved a sweeping bill to fight climate change.

The European Parliament approved on Wednesday a deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the final step in a year of talks to secure the world’s broadest agreement yet to battle climate change.

Parliament’s approval follows a deal among European leaders last week to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 after watering down the costs for industry of fines and pollution permits. The economic crisis had at times threatened to derail the European Union’s plans, but a myriad of concessions to industry helped pin down a deal amid criticism from environmental groups.

The deal takes on a greater importance coming just before Barack Obama assumes the U.S. presidency, amid hopes in Europe of transatlantic cooperation to tackle climate change. “Everybody knows what Mr Obama has set as priorities — energy security and climate change,” European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in the debate preceding Wednesday’s vote.


 The biggest threat to a deal was the opposition of nine former communist nations, which feared the deal would ramp up costs for their highly polluting coal-fired power sectors. To buy their support, funding will be distributed to them from around 12 percent of revenues from the EU’s flagship emissions trading scheme (ETS), which makes industry buy permits to pollute.

Given that these countries are also signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, which they’ve observed mostly in the breach, the degree to which this changes anything remains to be seen.  The change in U.S. administrations will certainly help.  

The financial crisis will, as the above report from Reuters notes, put pressure on governments to water down measures that will hurt existing businesses.  At the same time, however, the impulse to engage in massive government stimulus spending could be the necessary spark to invest hundreds of billions in the necessary infrastructure.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

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