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 the talks in Copenhagen.
All 27 members of the European Union agreed to 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.
Britain, France and Germany will each contribute about 20 percent of the money. But with many cash-strapped eastern EU states balking, donations by some were thought to be only a token to reach a unanimous agreement.
Critics said the EU was merely repacking aid promised earlier in different forms and sidestepping key climate change issues to produce a favorable headline.
Britain is promising the most at $650 million each year — saying this reflects its links to former members of the British Empire affected by climate change. It is also is pushing to raise that figure and the overall EU figure higher at the Copenhagen talks next week.
"(This) really does make possible an agreement where Africa and the developing countries can see that their needs are being taken seriously," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
France and Germany followed with pledges of $622 million (euro420 million) each a year.
The money goes 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.
The money would help poorer countries protect their coasts, adjust crops threatened by drought, build water supplies and irrigation systems, preserve forests and move from fossil fuel to low-carbon energy systems such as solar and wind power.
Yet the $10 billion-a-year pales in comparison to the huge stimulus packages and bank bailouts paid by many EU governments in the wake of the global financial meltdown. Financier George Soros, speaking Thursday in Copenhagen, dismissed that figure as inadequate for the scope of change facing poor countries.
Greenpeace was also critical of Friday's announcement, saying EU leaders were avoiding more important decisions on longer-term climate financing for poor nations and on greenhouse gas emissions cuts.
"Climate change will not end in three years ... so neither should the flow of cash," said Joris den Blanken, the environmental group's climate expert.
ActionAid, which focuses on development aid, said the EU was failing to pony up "real money" and that many EU states had "a track record of repackaging or re-announcing existing aid."
Reinfeldt conceded that the commitments announced Friday include new money as well as aid promised earlier.
The EU leaders also pledged Friday to reduce their emissions by 30 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 — but only if other leading polluters make comparable commitments first. Reinfeldt said Europe was waiting for deeper emission cuts from U.S. 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.
Not all EU states are behind the drive to cut carbon emissions. Poland's prime minister Donald Tusk said his nation would only start making major emissions cuts after 2020, when new nuclear power stations could allow Poland to wean itself off cheap — and polluting — coal.
On other issues, EU leaders also called for more debate on a global financial transaction levy, saying banks must do more to contribute to "the society they serve." They didn't say whether the money should go toward development or a global bank bailout fund.
Brown said there was "growing support" across the world for such a levy and that EU leaders also backed Britain's plans for a one-time tax of 50 percent for all bonuses over 25,000 pounds ($40,800). But no firm EU-wide action was taken.
On foreign policy, the EU leaders said they would support new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and welcomed the injection of new U.S. troops in Afghanistan.