EU opens wide-ranging debate on energy savings

  

The Commission on 22 June put forward a series of ideas for discussion that it says could save Europe some 20% in energy consumption by 2020 and slash its energy bill by 60 billion euros every year.

The Commission has opened a debate on energy savings with potentially far-reaching consequences on several industries, including car-makers, with the presentation of its long-awaited Green Paper on Energy Efficiency on 22 June 2005.

The paper places energy savings as a key element of the EU's ambitions to boost competitiveness and jobs - the Lisbon strategy - saying it could save "at least 20% of its present energy consumption" by 2020, or the equivalent of 60 billion euros a year. It says energy savings would also contribute to reducing Europe's growing dependence on oil and gas imports as prices of fossil fuels continue to surge.

At the same time, the Commission says energy savings would be the quickest and most cost-effective manner to reduce greenhouse gases emissions and help the EU meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. 

Recent figures published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) for the period 2002-2003 have demonstrated how far the EU's oldest member states were from meeting their Kyoto commitments (EurActiv, 22 June 2005).

According to the Commission, half of the 20% energy savings mentioned in the paper could be met by simply better enforcing existing legislation (see above). The remaining 10% would need to come from innovative solutions, it said.

Examples of concrete ideas put forward in the paper include:

  • Establishing Annual Energy Efficiency Action Plans at national level;
  • Improve citizen awareness on energy savings through information campaigns and product labelling;
  • A move towards harmonised tax regimes to support vehicles using cleaner fuels or those that are more energy-efficient;
  • Better targeted state aid to encourage eco-industries and eco-innovation;
  • Encourage national and local administrations to acquire less-polluting and energy-efficient vehicles to provide car-makers with a market for greener cars (see EurActiv LinksDossier) - a market that the Commission estimates at 60,000 vehicles a year;
  • Using cohesion funds and other support mechanisms at national level to support projects such as clean urban transport including public transport;
  • Doing more on energy-efficiency of buildings by extending measures to smaller premises (according to the Commission, the buildings sector accounts for 40% of the EU's energy requirements and offers the largest single potential for energy efficiency - up to 30-45 million tonnes of CO2 per year)
  • Using the Commission's CARS 21 industry high-level group to speed up the development of cleaner vehicles (EurActiv, 8 April 205) 

One full chapter of the paper is specifically dedicated to the transport sector. Some ideas concerning aviation and its impact on climate change are currently being discussed in other context and are therefore not addressed in detail by the green paper (see EurActiv's LinksDossier on climate change and aviation). 

The most ground-breaking suggestions are for road transport:

  • De-taxing cleaner vehicles;
  • Restricting access of the most polluting and fuel-consuming vehicles to the central areas of cities;
  • Introducing specific certification and technical standards for cleaner vehicles (see EurActiv LinksDossier on green cars)

As with almost any other emerging EU debate, one of the key questions will be to decide which level of decision-making - EU, member state or local - is best suited to address the issues addressed in the paper.

Positions: 

The green paper received cross-party support in the European Parliament. In a joint statement, individual MEPs from five different political groups (EPP-ED, Socialist, ALDE, Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL) said a Europe-wide framework needs to be built to reap the economic and environmental benefits of energy savings. Together, they presented a joint paper for an energy intelligent Europe for 2020.

The European chapter of INFORSE (International Network for Sustainable Energy) - a coalition of 64 NGOs promoting clean energy in the EU and former soviet countries - welcomed the Commission's energy green paper but said more should be done. It argues that the 20% energy efficiency target for 2020 should in fact be set as a minimum target and called for an intermediary target of 14% to be established for 2015. It called for harmonised energy taxation to be introduced by a vanguard group of EU countries using the Amsterdam Treaty's so-called "enhanced cooperation" and for fast-track procedures to be used for product standards and labeling.

Eurima - the European insulation manufacturers association - stated that with rising oil prices and CO2 emissions still rising, focusing more attention on energy efficiency had become a necessity for Europe. More specifically, Eurima welcomed the Green Paper's proposal to lower the incentives threshold for renovation of buildings to 1000 square meters. Eurima's Director General Horst Biedermann said this was essential if Europe is to capture the huge potential from buildings.

Timeline: 
  • October 2005: A European Sustainable Energy Forum gathering Commission and member states officials, MEPs, national energy regulators, industry and NGOs will hold its first meeting;
  • 2006: A concrete action plan is expected to follow from the green paper
External links: 
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