EXCLUSIVE / An alliance representing more than a thousand European cities wrote to Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, yesterday (17 February) calling for binding 2030 targets of 40% for energy efficiency, and 30% for renewable energy, in line with a European Parliament proposal.

The European Commission has adopted a milder climate package, setting the scene for a potential clash of EU pillars

The president of the Energy Cities group, which authored the written protest, said that making efficiency a “key priority” could create jobs, send a signal to investors and more.

“I personally sense a great deal of disillusionment among my citizens towards European politics,” Eckart Würzner, who is also the Mayor of Heidelberg told EurActiv. “An ambitious EU climate and energy policy that tackled economic growth, fuel poverty and quality of life issues would ultimately contribute to restoring trust in European institutions.”

The Energy Cities letter, which EurActiv has seen, backs the Commission’s proposed 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions but chides the overall package for only suggesting a non-binding 27% target for renewables, and offering no energy savings measures at all.

This “lacks the necessary ambition to meet Europe’s climate and energy commitments for 2050 [and] fails to seize the opportunity to shift to a new energy paradigm based on dentralised low-carbon production and lower energy use,” the letter says.

New figures from Eurostat released yesterday say that energy consumption in the EU fell by 8% between 2006 and 2012, but the continent remains dependent on fossil fuel imports for 53% of its energy needs, and is off-course to meet its energy saving goals for 2020. In this context, consultation around the 2030 targets is seen as crucial.

The Commission’s proposed new energy framework “omits to fully embark local stakeholders that are committed, under the direction of their political leaders, to the Covenant of Mayors,” the letter to Van Rompuy says.  

Energy Cities bills itself as ‘the European association of local authorities in energy transition’ while the Covenant of Mayors unites 5,499 city chiefs from London and Paris to small villages who all believe that “the fight against climate change will be won or lost in urban areas.”

City Limits

According to a recent analysis by 'The Economist' magazine, a third of the world’s cities will be susceptible to the effects of climate change by 2025.

But cities also contain a disproportionate amount of buildings and street lights, account for more than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and could be pivotal in mitigating the worst effects of climate change.

While 45% of Europe’s total CO2 emissions come from inefficiencies in buildings’ heating and cooling systems, intelligent designs can slash both carbon pollution and energy bills by two thirds.

Incorporating renewable energies can create buildings that produce no net CO2 use at all.

Adrian Joyce, the secretary-general of the European Association of Companies for Energy Efficiency (Euroace) said that he hoped Van Rompuy, who recently praised the sector’s job creation potential, would listen to the Energy Cities letter.

Democratic deficit

“The initiative has my 100% support,” he said. “Cities and regions are overlooked as actors today and are very well-placed to bring about a sea change in energy efficiency on the ground, as opposed to in policy.”

It was “ironic if not a potential democratic deficit” that elected representatives in Europe’s city halls and Parliament might be over-ruled by an unelected European Commission, he said.

One industry source who requested anonymity dubbed it “another example of the EU not listening to its citizens.”

Würzner said that the world’s local authorities were stepping in to fill the breach left by a failure of government action. “But we cannot forever remain the back office workers,” he warned. “We need adequate recognition and continuous support to keep moving forwards.”

A study by the C40 group of the world’s megacities earlier this month expressed frustration with the failure to agree a post-Kyoto climate treaty.

“In the continuing absence of tangible outcomes from inter-governmental efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the report said, “the mayors of the world’s greatest cities are taking concrete actions to demonstrate that preventing catastrophic climate change is possible.”

Europe lags in buildings efficiency race

The C40 study cited 1,668 buildings efficiency actions, and 114 improvements to outdoor lighting. But Europe’s cities lag behind South and West Asia, North America and East Asia in measures taken.

A target to annually refurbish 3% of the continent’s public building stocks in the Energy Efficiency Directive was gutted by member states before making it into statute. Germany may now only need to refurbish 37 public buildings to comply.  

Policy levers such as regulations, incentives and procurement requirements spur efficiency projects in many parts of the world. Europe though, is second only to East Asia in its preference for programmes and projects.

Where outdoor lighting is concerned, The C40 paper found that 90% of cities were taking action, with the wealthiest conurbations increasingly using LED lighting.

But sodium lighting remains the most common technology with a market penetration ranging from 91% in cities with very low GDP’s per capita, to 76% in richer urban districts.

“Switching to energy efficient LED lighting solutions coupled with smart controls can bring energy savings of 40% on average and up to 80% for individual projects,” Harry Verhaar, the public affairs chief at Philips Lighting told EurActiv.

Such a switch could also reduce the need for 640 medium-sized power plants, bringing costing savings of approximately €130 billion, the firm believes.

New York City

“Beyond lighting, it is imperative in our opinion that the final EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework includes provisions for more widely addressing the potential of energy efficiency in buildings, appliances and cities,” Verhaar said.

Improved buildings efficiency has heralded a 19% drop in New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions since 2005, putting the city firmly on track to meet a targeted 30% CO2 cut by 2030.  The city’s air is now the cleanest it has been in 50 years.

In recognition of this, the former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was last month appointed as a UN special envoy for cities and climate change. His ideas continue to move policy-makers.

After talks between the US and China on 15 February, a state department note said that the two countries had reached agreement on implementation plans for five initiatives, one of which would involved energy efficiency in buildings.