An emissions trading scheme that would cover up to 5000 plants in the 15 European Union (EU) Member States will commence in 2005.

The scheme is part of a package of measures designed to help the EU meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Under the programme, companies would be issued with permits to pollute. If they exceed their quotas they would be forced to buy additional permits from other companies or face being fined.

Olivier Deleuze, energy minister of Belgium – a country that recently announced a nuclear power phase-out (see NEI November 2001, p2) – said: “There are those who say that the EU are hypocrites because we aren’t doing anything, and those who say that meeting Kyoto guidelines is easy for Europe. This proves them wrong on both counts.” Several industry groups have voiced their opposition to the emissions trading scheme, which must still be approved by the European Parliament and member governments, arguing that it will damage their competitiveness. Since the USA has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, the country would face an unfair advantage.