The European Commission was working hard on “getting the narrative right,” Hedegaard told a Eurogas conference in Brussels yesterday (9 October), ahead of an announcement before 2014 on whether the bloc should have more than one CO2 target for 2020.
“I think that is wise,” she said. “During the economic crisis we had more than one target and that has helped us a lot.”
“Imagine if we had only had a CO2 target and the ETS (Emissions Trading System) during this crisis,” she continued. “Would Europe have continued to have such a strong focus on energy efficiency and renewables? I don’t believe it.”
The EU currently has three 20% targets for 2020, encompassing a CO2 emissions cut, a share of the energy market for renewables, and an improvement in energy efficiency, although this latter goal is voluntary.
A new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) yesterday found that the bloc had reduced its emissions by 18% between 1990 and 2012, and met 13% of its energy use from renewables in 2011.
Collective primary energy consumption was also set to fall to the EU’s target, the EEA found, but no single member state was on track to meet all three goals.
“The EEA’s latest analysis confirms that renewable energy and energy efficiency are having a significant effect on bringing down emissions,” said Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA’s executive director. “We must keep building on this success.”
The environmental group Sandbag put out a statement arguing that if carbon offsets were counted, the real emissions reduction figure would be 27%, but that free handouts to industry were distorting the picture.
Drowning in carbon allowances
“Without reform, the 2020 climate framework will undermine our future climate efforts by drowning them in spare carbon allowances,” said Damien Morris, a senior policy advisor at Sandbag. “A 30% target in 2020 would be a simple way to prevent this."
“Some of the sectors complaining the most about climate policies have gained from the system so far,” Hedegaard agreed. “That is a fact. They have had a surplus of allowances, sold them and profited from them, yet are complaining a lot.”
The Commission is currently preparing a structural market reform plan for the ETS, which will be brought forward before the end of the year. But first “we need some clear signals on the ‘Energiewende’ [Germany’s post-nuclear energy transition] and decisions being taken there to make the progress we need on the ETS,” Hedegaard said.
She warned those pushing for a carbon tax instead to “be careful what you wish for”, as this could lead to a fragmented and incoherent European policy framework.
But the more oft-heard criticism of EU climate policy in Brussels these days is that it hampers industry with cost overhangs on energy prices particularly, partly due to renewable energy subsidies.
In an indication of the argument's resonance, the employers’ confederation BusinessEurope, which has pushed it, co-hosted the official Polish pre-COP UNFCCC climate summit in Warsaw last week for the first time.
Amendments to a European Parliament plenary motion to be voted on tomorrow criticise Poland’s handling of the main international COP19 summit next month for its co-funding by 12 companies, as revealed by EurActiv, and for “undermining EU climate policies”.
“These amendments prove that many MEPs share our concerns about the COP host aligning with vested interests and the damage this could do to the EU’s international reputation,” Julia Michalak of Climate Action Network Europe told EurActiv.
Poland opposes any climate and energy target at all for 2030. However, a consensus has taken hold among many member states that a sole 40% carbon dioxide reduction target for 2030 offers the best way forward.
Last month, the EU’s energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, said that the bloc was in “wide agreement” on this point, although it was divided on the merits of a renewables target and not even talking about an energy efficiency goal.
The EU’s energy efficiency department contends that there is little point in discussing this, six months ahead of its review of progress towards meeting the 2020 goal, which could recommend that the 20% target be made binding.