Europe has had an often calamitous and tragic past. But it is from this past that the European Union has drawn lessons and forged a shared determination to provide a peaceful, prosperous and fair community of nations. This is an auspicious year for the EU. It gained two new members, Bulgaria and Romania, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Today the continent is sharing the benefits of the EU's far-sighted founders with a world community often eager to adopt EU standards on everything from health and safety standards in the workplace to educational opportunities. Thomas Roe, head of the office of the European Commission in Hong Kong and Macau, is the representative of the world's largest trading bloc, made up of 27 member nations and with a combined population of almost 500 million. Quite a brief, even for a seasoned veteran of the diplomatic corps, and one whose work for the EU has included projects in East Timor and across southern Africa. The EU encompasses an enormous range of issues and, considering the varied political complexion of the bloc's membership, it is remarkably quick to move on issues that affect Europe and the rest of the world. This is probably most evident in the realm of environmental awareness, in which the EU enjoys an excellent record of reducing our impact on the planet. So, when asked what the EU's position on the Hong Kong air quality problem was - an issue that does not distinguish between EU and non-EU passport holders - Mr Roe answered evenly, but not equivocally. 'We would encourage that Hong Kong adopts and use up-to-date internationally recognised standards of air quality, such as EU standards. A transparent and regulatory environment is needed. 'There is no escaping the fact that fighting pollution costs; the polluter should pay.' But he added that the costs were likely to be passed on to the consumer, which 'is something that should not be overlooked'. As he spoke, Hong Kong was incongruously enjoying one of its magical high-visibility days, with the air apparently as clean as that around an Alpine peak, rather than our Peak. Awareness has been raised, however, and Mr Roe is upbeat on the prospect, over the smoggy horizon, of the enactment of effective measures to bring back blue skies. He is encouraged by progress on the mainland, a part of the world not normally cited for its green endeavours. 'China has actually already adopted the vehicle emission measurements that we use in the EU, and we are seeing much more action over the border than is commonly believed to be the case,' he said. 'The EU has more than 20 regulatory agreements or dialogues with China - on everything from nuclear safety to environmental issues and food safety. 'In this part of China, we would like to develop more dialogue with Hong Kong and Macau over trade, customs, financial markets regulation, health and safety and other areas of mutual interest.' The EU also sees the importance of dialogue at every level. 'We propose to ensure more educational and people-to-people exchanges.' But he said the EU did not have all the answers. 'As a global force, the EU also needs to take on board what other parts of the world want too. We need to listen and respond.' Climate change is one of the areas where the EU is most active in an acting and a listening capacity. The bloc has dialogues with all the authoritative voices on the issue and is tackling climate change with the urgency that the gathering crisis demands. The EU in Brussels, its de facto capital, said: 'The warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global mean sea level. The Earth's average surface temperature has risen by 0.76 degrees Celsius since 1850. Most of the warming that has occurred over the past 50 years is very likely to have been caused by human activities. 'Projected global warming this century is likely to trigger serious consequences for humanity and other life forms, including a rise in sea levels of between 18 and 59cm which will endanger coastal areas and small islands, and a greater frequency and severity of extreme weather events.' The 'human activities' that are contributing to climate change include the burning of fossil fuels and land-use changes such as deforestation. The EU is at the forefront of international efforts to combat climate change and has played a key role in the development of the two major treaties addressing the issue, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997. In March 2000, the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP) was launched, leading to the adoption of a wide range of new eco-friendly policies and measures. Among these is the pioneering EU Emissions Trading Scheme, launched on January 1, 2005, which has become the cornerstone of EU efforts to reduce emissions in a cost-effective way. Monitoring data and projections indicate that the 15 European Union members at the time of the EU's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 (EU-15) will reach their Kyoto Protocol target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This requires emissions in 2008-2012 to be 8 per cent below 1990 levels. However, Kyoto is only a first step, and the European Commission has set out proposals and options to reduce global emissions after 2012, when Kyoto's targets expire, to limit global warming to 2 degrees.