The European Parliament sent a “strong message” yesterday (5 February) in favour of an ambitious EU energy and climate policy for 2030, backing legally-binding goals for CO2 emissions, renewables and energy efficiency.
Parliament voted for a 40% cut in CO2 emissions, a 30% share of the energy market for renewables and a 40% improvement in energy efficiency, all by 2030.
The resolution, approved by 341 votes to 263, criticised the Commission’s proposed energy and climate framework, which is meant to extend the current 2020 package.
The vote itself is not legally-binding but agreement will need to be reached between the Commission, Parliament and member states before a final proposal can be signed off on, later this year.
As such, Parliament signalled its intent to the EU executive, which unveiled a much less ambitious plan earlier this year.
While most MEPs backed the stronger targets, many Conservative and centre-right MEPs were worried about the possible consequences on business and EU country's ability to decide their own energy mix.
Françoise Grossetête, a French MEP from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), called the figures "madness", saying "member states should have the necessary freedom and flexibility to decide their energy mix.”
Non-binding but politically crucial
Other MEPs called the EU executive's proposal “short-sighted” and “unambitious”. This was so, “specifically as regards the lack of national targets for renewable energy and of any meaningful new action to incentivise energy efficiency”, Parliament said in a statement.
The Commission's 2030 plan also called for a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emission (GHG), but just a 27% non-binding share for renewables in the energy mix, and no target at all on energy efficiency.
Brook Riley, an environmental activist at Friends of the Earth, said that Parliament's proposed targets would increase the continent's emission-cutting potential.
“The positive outcome of today’s vote is that MEPs’ support for energy efficiency and renewables means they are effectively calling for a 45-50% emissions target," Riley told EurActiv. "This is less than the 60% cuts Friends of the Earth’s analysis shows is needed for the EU to be in line with its 2°C climate commitments. But the Parliament’s vote is a welcome counter signal to the Commission’s dangerously weak proposals of last month. We hope EU governments are listening.”
Although the parliamentary text is a non-binding resolution, it nonetheless sends a “strong political message” and a “timely signal” that the parliament “regrets the Commission’s proposal”, MEP Bas Eickhout (Greens) said. “One of the two institutions that have to legislate on this matter is unhappy,” he added.
Energy ministers will meet in Brussels in March to discuss the 2030 targets, but MEPs are worried that the Commission may tryto “bypass” Parliament by choosing a different legislative basis when tabling its final proposal, in October at the earliest.
An amendment adopted yesterday expressed the institution’s “deep concern about the proposals for a new governance structure for the 2030 framework, and (…) insists that the Commission should base any legal proposal on full co-decision between Parliament and the Council.”
The text refers to a formulation in the Commission’s January communication which flags a “new governance framework based on national plans for competitive, secure and sustainable energy prepared by the Member States .”
MEP fear that the Commission could try to leave the final decision to member states only, by choosing a legal basis in the treaty that would sideline Parliament. The original amendment called on the Commission to base its proposal on Article 194 of the Lisbon Treaty but this provision was later erased.
Not all stakeholders share their concern. "Rather than monitoring reports and reviews like it is now, it would be more based on a bilateral cooperation,” said one Parliamentary source who added that the new governance formula referred to the Commission’s monitoring methods.
Challenges for the next legislature
Regardless of yesterday's vote, a surge in far-right parties in the next EU parliament, as many opinion polls have predicted, could water down the EU’s environmental ambitions.
The group of the European Reformists and Conservatives (ECR) whose members helped draft the report, withdrew their signatures and called on MEPs not to adopt objectives which they termed a “mistake” that might weaken the EU’s position in global talks before the 2015 Paris conference.
Eurosceptics are traditionally opposed to ambitious environmental regulations, but the centre-right EU group, the European People’s Party (EPP) might hold the key, since it is expected to win a majority of seats in the next legislature.
“There will be a push towards the EPP," Eickhout warned. "The EPP will need to decide whether they team up with the progressives or the extremists. Reasonable policy will prevail if the EPP leans towards the more progressive side of the Parliament.”
Reacting to the vote, the EU's Climate Action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard tweeted: “Good result in European Parliament vote on EU2030 sending a clear signal to EU governments to support 40% GHG target. Hope EU governments will listen!”
Françoise Grossetête from the European People’s Party said in a statement that she voted against the targets: “These numbers are madness. How many times will they change by 2030? Our industry needs a stable and foreseeable framework to boost long-term investments. Instead of that, the parliament proposes unrealistic numbers! […] Reducing CO2 emissions is our priority, we should have focused on one objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Member states should have the necessary freedom and flexibility to decide their energy mix.”
The Socialists and Democrats’s shadow rapporteur in the environment committee, Swedish MEP Marita Ulvskog, said: "I welcome the ambitious report we adopted today. If we look at the climate change policy set for 2020 we see how we were extremely successful where we had binding targets, such as the 20% reduction of CO2 emissions. We have already achieved 18%."
"I think that this lesson was very clear today for a majority in the Parliament and the Commission must listen. We are calling for a clear-cut legislation with binding targets and predictability. Predictability will allow for investment in key energy sectors."
Greenpeace reacted by saying: “Europe cannot lead on clean energy development without clear enforceable targets for renewables and efficiency. With its call for binding targets today, the parliament has drawn a line in the sand to give investors the certainty they need. Now EU governments have to raise the bar to secure a clean energy future for Europe.”
The Coalition for Energy Savings, an association representing businesses, professionals and local authorities lobbying for ambitious energy savings policies, said: “The European Parliament takes the leadership by putting energy savings on top of the EU energy and climate agenda for 2030, encouraging a wavering Commission to make decisive steps in the coming months”, said Jan te Bos, Chairman of the Coalition for Energy Savings and Director General of EURIMA, the European Insulation Manufacturers Association. “It recognises that the EU has to capture its huge energy saving potentials, to reduce energy costs, create local jobs, and address long-term competitiveness and climate concerns – all at the same time”.
Bertrand Cazes, the Secretary General of Glass for Europe said: “Today, the European Parliament's stance on energy efficiency marks the victory of logic and rationale thinking over unclear political interests and legacy. Since energy efficiency is central to all EU objectives, it deserves a binding target to set levels of ambitions and thus mobilize market actors”
The European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings said: “The European Parliament has shown a clear vision and understanding of the current economic dynamics in the EU – unlocking the available cost-effective energy savings potential in sectors like buildings through a binding Energy Efficiency Target and a sectoral target for buildings is a no-brainer”
“Europe’s long-term climate and energy policies cannot be entirely convincing as long as they fail to properly address the question of heating and cooling” said Paul Voss of Euroheat & Power. “If we are serious about the energy transition, we will need a thoughtful approach that recognises heating and cooling for what they are; integral elements of the energy system which can and must be used to optimise overall performance.”
- March 2014: EU Energy ministers to meet over 2030 energy and climate targets