BRUSSELS – EU leaders agreed Friday to commit euro2.4 billion ($3.6 billion) a year until 2012 to help poorer countries combat global warming, as they sought to rescue their image as climate change innovators and bolster talks in Copenhagen.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the offer "puts Europe in a leadership role in Copenhagen," where international negotiators are seeking a long-term way to slow the warming of the planet.
All 27 members of the European Union will commit money to a short-term fund for poorer countries, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said after two days of difficult talks at a summit in Brussels. His country holds the rotating EU presidency.
The leaders failed Thursday to come up with a firm figure for the fund, an embarrassing setback for a bloc that was long at the forefront of the fight against global warming. Smaller eastern EU states were reluctant to donate as they struggle with rising government debt and high unemployment in the wake of the financial crisis.
Yet on Friday, EU leaders reached a final figure of $3.6 billion a year for the next three years, with Britain, France and Germany each contributing about 20 percent. Britain is pushing to raise the figure higher at the Copenhagen talks.
Donations by some EU countries are thought to be only a token to reach a unanimous agreement.
The climate money is meant to go toward a global $10 billion annual fund for short-term help to poor countries, particularly in Africa, adapt to the effects of global warming before a new climate treaty being negotiated in Copenhagen comes into force in 2012.
Critics noted, however, the $10 billion-a-year aid pales in comparison to the huge stimulus packages and bank bailouts paid by many governments in the wake of the global financial meltdown. Financier George Soros, speaking Thursday in Copenhagen, dismissed the $10 billion figure as inadequate for the scope of change that poor countries need to enact.
The EU leaders also pledged to reduce their emissions by 30 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 — but are still demanding that other leading polluters make comparable commitments first.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the pledge "conditional."
"We will see if there is a move on the part of the other developed countries during the Copenhagen summit," Reinfeldt said, noting in particular the United States and Canada.
Two years ago, the EU was ahead of the pack when it pledged to cut 20 percent of emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 and to increase that to 30 percent if other big polluters made similar promises. Japan and Russia have now outpaced Europe with 25 percent cuts. The U.S. is promising a 3 percent reduction from 1990 levels.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the Copenhagen talks, which end Dec. 18, should pave the way to an ambitious and legally binding global treaty within six months.
"There are few moments in history when nations are summoned to common decisions that will reshape the lives of men and women potentially for generations to come," Brown said.
The climate change money would help poorer countries build coastal protection, modify or shift crops threatened by drought, build water supplies and irrigation systems, preserve forests, improve health care to deal with diseases spread by warming, and move from fossil fuel to low-carbon energy systems such as solar and wind power.