BRUSSELS — A European Commission proposal to slash greenhouse-gas emissions by the end of the next decade has highlighted a growing trans-Atlantic split over global warming that is further stressed by a recent poll that shows Europeans are more concerned about climate change than terrorism.
In a major package of measures aimed at combatting global warming last week, the European Union’s executive arm urged the bloc’s 27 member states to unilaterally cut emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, by one-fifth by 2020 compared with 1990 figures.
It also called on the United States — which has rejected mandatory curbs on emissions — and developing countries such as China and India to join it in signing up to a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by the same date.
“Europe must lead the world into a new — or maybe, one should say, post-industrial — revolution: the development of a low-carbon economy,” Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said while announcing the plan in Brussels on Wednesday.
“We have already left behind our coal-based industrial past. It is time to embrace our low-carbon future,” he said.
The European Union is currently committed to cutting a basket of six greenhouse gases by 8 percent by 2010, compared with 1990 figures. However, recent data from the European Environment Agency shows this target is unlikely to be reached without additional measures.
The commission says its new goal can be reached if member states improve energy efficiency, accept competition between national energy suppliers, agree to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar power by 2020 and ensure that 10 percent of gasoline consumed is made from biofuels by the same date.
The commission’s plan, which was slammed as “unambitious” by green groups and members of the European Parliament, underlines the radically different approaches to tackling climate change in Europe and the United States.
A poll released by the France 24 TV channel on Jan. 5 showed global warming to be a greater planetary challenge than terrorism in four of the five European countries where the survey was conducted.
In France, for example, 54 percent said the greatest challenge to the planet was global warming, compared with 26 percent who cited terrorism. By contrast, 49 percent of Americans cited terrorism as the biggest threat, while 30 percent mentioned climate change.
Simon Tilford, an analyst at the London-based think tank Center for European Reform, said Americans and Europeans differed over climate change because “in Europe, global warming is accepted as a fact, whereas for a lot of people in the United States, the jury is still out.”
However, Mr. Tilford said, attitudes toward global warming were changing in the United States and “whoever wins the next presidential election will take a very different line to the current administration.”
In similar polls, such as the German Marshall Fund’s annual Trans-Atlantic Trends survey, terrorism has been the No. 1 concern of both Europeans and Americans since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. But global warming has shot to the top of the political agenda in recent months owing in part to former Vice President Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth,” stern warnings from scientific advisory bodies and hard-to-ignore evidence that climate change is already happening.
The 10 hottest years since recordkeeping began in Europe have occurred in the past 11 years and the commission’s report paints a grim picture of a continent battered by floods in the north and drought in the south if temperatures rise by 3 percent, as some scientists predict.
Nathalie Labalme, an analyst at the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said concern about terrorism was less on the “old Continent” because Europeans have lived with it longer than Americans.
“Because of that, Europeans believe you cannot win the war on terrorism, you can only contain it.”
However, the France 24 poll, which was conducted in early December among 12,570 persons in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Britain and the United States, revealed that Europeans are more worried about the challenge of religious fanaticism than Americans. In Italy, Spain and Germany, it was cited as the No. 1 threat to the planet.
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