ECONOMY

Dimas makes debut

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s ambitious emissions trading system can start in January even if not all of the bloc’s 25 nations are ready to participate, the EU’s designated new environment commissioner said yesterday. The scheme, which creates a market mechanism to encourage factories to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), is central to meeting the EU’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement aimed at slowing global warming. «Actually, from the beginning it was thought that perhaps it would start with fewer countries,» Stavros Dimas told reporters after testifying before EU lawmakers. The system will allow firms to buy or sell rights to pollute. Member states must outline the amount of emissions allocated to different sectors. These «national allocation plans» must be submitted to the Commission for approval. Eight plans have already been approved or partially approved, and more decisions are expected in October, but some countries – Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Malta – still have not submitted their plans. «We have to start the system with the countries that have already sent their plans in,» Dimas told the European Parliament’s environment committee, adding laggard member states should be encouraged to get involved as soon as they were able. Current Transport and Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said recently the EU should reconsider the emissions trading scheme if Russia fails to ratify Kyoto by December. Russian ratification is needed for the agreement to go into force. Dimas told lawmakers he thought Russia would ratify but failure to do so did not mean the EU would ignore its targets under the pact. The Russian government said yesterday it would discuss ratifying Kyoto. President Vladimir Putin has ordered ministers to approve the pact. The highly polluting transport sector is not included in the EU’s current planned emissions scheme, and Dimas indicated he would support a tax on airline fuel, though he said that would be up to member states to decide. He also committed himself to enforcing the implementation of EU environment laws including in his homeland of Greece, which one parliamentarian complained had a poor record of doing so. The European Commission sent a warning letter to Greece in July for failing to submit its national allocation plan. Pending parliamentary approval, Dimas will succeed Margot Wallstrom as environment commissioner in November. «He is clearly a different kind of commissioner than Wallstrom – much less progressive – and his experience with environment policy is limited. So we will have to keep an eye on him,» said Dan Joergensen, a Danish Socialist member of the European Parliament, in a statement. «He said some good things about implementation of environmental legislation which I of course will hold him to.» A Greens lawmaker said they were concerned environmental protection would suffer under Dimas and urged incoming Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso to rethink the nomination. «In his responses to questions from MEPs, Stavros Dimas demonstrated a worrying lack of environmental commitment and vision. He also failed to present any sort of clear action plan for his potential new role,» said Satu Hassi, a Finnish Green MEP.