The EU’s 2030 Climate and Energy Policy
EU 2030 Climate and Energy proposals: The path of least resistance for the Commission?
The greatly anticipated announcement by the European Commission on 22nd January of its ‘2030 Framework for Climate and Energy Policies’ was made following a 40-minute delay to the press conference, as disharmony behind closed doors meant that negotiations between dissenting factions —within the Commission itself and Member States— went down to the wire.
With the 2030 Climate and Energy package the biggest landmark climate initiative to come out of Brussels since 2008, there was hope, though faint, of a bold and ambitious announcement. In being the first to set out its emissions reduction targets before what will be a critical assembly of governments at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in December 2015, the European Union had an opportunity to lead by example.
The ‘2030 Framework for Climate and Energy Policies’ seeks to build on the ‘2020 Climate and Energy Package,’ whilst reflecting the ambition of the Energy Roadmap 2050, but as had been widely anticipated, when the announcement was finally made and the detail emerged, the key EC proposals were neither breath-taking nor ground-breaking. Setting a target of reducing EU domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below the 1990 level was well below the 60% reduction being called for by many climate scientists and by the environmental lobby. Friends of the Earth were quick to point out that data produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the Commission shows that a 40% emissions reduction target means a 50% chance that President Barroso’s pledge to cap the temperature increase at 2°C would be broken. “By proposing a 40% target the European Commission is backing out of its commitment to limit global warming to safe levels.”
The Commission proposal to increase the share of renewable energy to at least 27% of the EU's energy consumption by 2030 was similarly unambitious, as a concession was made to the UK that this target would be binding only at bloc level. Also included in the package was a proposal to reform the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) to provide a more flexible mechanism (a market stability reserve) to allow the surplus of carbon permits to be curbed. Whilst the Commission stated that it will “consider the potential need for amendments to the [Energy Efficiency] directive once the review has been completed” it failed to propose a target for energy efficiency.
Among the most critical of the EC’s proposals were Greenpeace, whose UK Executive Director John Sauven bullishly commented: “The commission has set out its broken stall – it’s now up to Europe’s elected leaders to fix it. They must agree to cut greenhouse gases by at least 55% by 2030 if they wish to play a meaningful role in a new global climate deal and help reduce the devastating impacts of extreme weather.”
These sentiments were echoed by the business community which seemed most affronted by the EC’s failure to propose a binding energy efficiency target. Philips’ Head of Global Public and Government Affairs Harry Verhaar put it most succinctly: “European policy-makers must realise that Europe will never lead on cheap energy and must therefore lead on least consumed energy. Energy efficiency is a key driver in making Europe more competitive and energy-independent.”
A fortnight after the EU Commission’s ‘2030 Framework for Climate and Energy Policies’ announcement, it seemed that MEPs had taken heed of the concerns voiced by the environmental lobby and by many in the business community. In a series of votes on the 5th February, MEPs voted by a margin of 341 to 263 for three binding targets for 2030: a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions; to increase the share of renewable energy to at least 30% of the EU's energy consumption; and to improve energy efficiency by 40%. On top of these targets, MEPs also voted to require binding national renewable targets —much to the dismay of the UK government. Whilst the votes are not legally binding, the democratically elected representatives of the European Parliament have at least sent an unequivocal message to the EU Commission. The next hurdle is a meeting of Energy Ministers in Brussels in March, but it is widely feared that the EC may attempt to side-step Parliament by pursuing a different legislative route before making its final proposal at the back end of 2014.
Amidst the rhetoric and politicking, those who will be most affected by the issues of climate change and by issues such as the affordability of energy must be front and centre in the minds of European policy-makers. All parties must work tirelessly in pursuit of the common good, and it must be remembered that perhaps those who will be most greatly affected are future Europeans -those not yet born.
Stephen N. Rooney