German Finance Minister Michael Glos wants the European Union to allow Germany to emit more greenhouse gases in exchange for decommissioning its nuclear power plants.
Glos, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union, outlined his argument in a letter to Germany Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who belongs to the center-left Social Democratic Party. In the letter, which was obtained by the German business daily Handelsblatt, Glos urges Gabriel to press the issue before the European Commission.
"Allowances for added emissions as a result of the nuclear phaseout need to be factored into the EU's broader Emissions Trading Scheme," writes Glos, according to Handelsblatt.
Glos gives the example of Sweden, which agreed to phase out nuclear power in the late 1990s. Sweden was rewarded by the EU with permission to emit 4 percent more greenhouse gases from 1990 to 2012.
The EU has made it a collective goal to cut emissions by 8 percent in that same timeframe, with Germany commited to a 21-percent cut by 2012.
Germany's nuclear energy program is the world's largest, and four of the world's five top-producing nuclear plants are located in the country. The 17 active plants in Germany are slated to be offline by 2020, but some energy industry leaders are lobbying to change that timetable. They argue that renewable energy technology won't be advanced enough in 12 years' time to compensate for the loss in nuclear production.
The Handelsblatt reports that replacing energy generated by nuclear plants with power from dirtier sources, like the coal-fired plants that produce 80 percent of power in Germany, could raise emissions by 150 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.
Last March the 27 EU member states agreed to cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and promised to make even deeper cuts if industrialized nations in the rest of the world reached a lower collective goal.
But the reduction targets that will be assigned to individual European countries are still under discussion, and many member states are lobbying to have certain power sources or industry sectors exempted from strict emissions cuts.
The EU wants to use the ambitious emissions reductions goal to bolster its image as an international leader on climate change, and member nations recently agreed to hammer out their differences by the close of this year. The EU wants to present its agreement as a model during ongoing negotiations to draft a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Formal negotiations on a new treaty began Monday, as representatives from more than 160 countries gathered in Bangkok, Thailand for a week-long conference. The talks are scheduled to conclude at a meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009. Nations would then be asked to ratify the treaty in time for it to enter into force when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.