The European Commission set out its goal Wednesday (22 January) of a Europe which, by 2030, emits 40% less carbon dioxide than it did in 1990, uses renewables for 27% of its energy, and employs a reserve mechanism to regulate its carbon market.

Green MEPs, NGOs protest Commission's new 2030 climate and energy targets

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The last wrangle in the target-setting was ironed out yesterday morning, with accord on a 27% target for renewables in 2030 that would be binding at the EU level but voluntary for member states.

The issue had become inter-linked with haggling over whether the greenhouse gas reduction target should be 35% or 40%, and the final fudge left some environmentalists privately breathing a sigh of relief.  

The EU’s climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, told a press conference in Brussels that unlike the EU’s 2020 target of a 20% CO2 reduction, the 40% target for 2030 could not be met by ‘carbon offsets’ and would require real emissions reductions.

Such offsets could though, be used to meet any pledges made in international climate talks, the commission's communication makes clear.

“If we go from 20% [greenhouse gas reductions] in 2020 to 40% in 2030, I am sure everyone realises that this is a very ambitious goal,” the Commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, told the same press briefing. “Lets hope that our member states will accept it,” he added.

Within minutes, the proposal was being applauded by industry groups for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, but chastised by many environmentalists for being a betrayal of Europe’s climate ambition.

The employers confederation BusinessEurope described it as “positive,” while environmentalists dubbed it a “walk now, sprint later” package that would require the EU to decarbonise twice as fast in the last two decades to 2050, as in the four decades before – with diminishing access to ‘low hanging fruits’ in the energy efficiency field.

Politicians hope that such a herculean task will allow Europe to contribute to a world warmed by less than 2 degrees Celsius this century. “We remain committed to the 2 degrees Celsius target,” Barroso said. “There is no ambiguity about that. This is a global goal and it is for that that we’re working.”

Short-term hedonism

But scientists were divided about the chances of the EU’s strategy's success. Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, described the EU package as “a sad day for science, rationality and humanity” that would lock high carbon-emitting infrastructure into the continent’s economic future.

“The EU’s dishonesty over its greenhouse gas target may be politically palatable today but our children will reap the repercussions of our short-term hedonism,” he told EurActiv.

“Given the EU’s importance as a leader in international climate change negotiations, a 40% target would condemn many millions of poor people to a dangerous future,” he said. “If we stick to this 40% target we will by 2030 have reneged on our international commitments to avoid dangerous global warming of 2 degrees centigrade.”

Kevin Trenberth, a lead author for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that the EU seemed to be “backing away a little bit after the 2020 goals” and leaving a gap in ambition.

Hedegaard confirmed at yesterday's press conference that the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive – which mandates a 6% cut in the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels by 2020 – will end in that year, so giving a boost to the tar sands industry and a setback to the biofuels'.

As EurActiv previously reported, shale gas exploration and exploitation will both be subject to new recommendations under the new proposals but any binding directive will have to wait until after a review in July 2015.

Energy efficiency

On energy efficiency, “the Commission's analysis shows that a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 40% would require an increased level of energy savings of approximately 25% in 2030,” the EU’s communication says.

But no such target is mandated, or will even be discussed until after a June 2014 review of the energy efficiency directive. Ironically, an EU strategy roadmap released on the same day as the climate package confirmed that member states are only on track to make 17% energy savings by 2020, rather than the indicative (non-binding) goal of 20%.

As the final package still needs to be discussed by a European Parliament that has proposed a much stronger climate package and member states, which the Commission says favour a weaker one, no final decision is expected on the 2030 goals until at least June.

The energy commissioner Günther Oettinger said it would be “an infringement of people’s trust in current procedures” to prejudge member states' progress towards the 2020 goals.

Low carbon leakage

But Tony Robson, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, which has just announced its first European factory closure due to ‘low carbon leakage’ this month was not impressed. 

“Consumers across the EU are crying out for governments to bring down energy bills,” he said. “It is inexcusable that the Commission has proposed a way forward that will drive costs up while ignoring energy efficiency – the only guaranteed, cost neutral way to drive competitiveness through reduced energy costs.”

The nature of the final compromise though was such that it left everyone in the Commission’s Berlaymont building able to claim a victory.

Barroso, for example, noted that the final compromise would offer "exemptions" and loopholes for industry considered vulnerable to ‘carbon leakage’.

Oettinger too said: “I have pleaded for a less ambitious objective of 35% [greenhouse gas reductions] but I am a democrat.”

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate commissioner, said that without concessions that she had made to get the package agreed, it would have been “dead, politically speaking”.

The renewable energy target is based on a business-as-usual figure set out in a ‘Trends’ document, but member states will have to draw up national plans for review by the commission which could be made more stringent if Brussels decides that the EU is off course to meet it.