Oettinger rallies opposition to 2030 CO2 target

European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger with Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard
European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger with Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard

The EU’s energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, has spoken out against a planned 40% cut in CO2 emissions across the EU by 2030, just a week after he helped to launch the policy.

Speaking at an ‘Industry Matters’ conference in Brussels, Oettinger said those who expected the cut to “save the world” were “arrogant or stupid”, and publicly questioned whether the reduction was even achievable.

“It’s an ambitious compromise and I am a little bit sceptical,” he told delegates at the conference, organised by the pan-European employers' confederation BusinessEurope.

“I have to be constructive as I’m a member of the team but I’m sceptical.”

The energy commissioner, who argued for a lesser 35% goal behind the scenes, said the EU was only on track to cut emissions 20% by the decades's end because of economic crisis and the closure of soviet-era plants in Eastern Europe.

“These were low-hanging fruits but there are no more now, so every percentage going down gets more difficult and cost-intensive,” he said. The EU was just responsible for 10.6% of global emissions today, a sum that would fall to 4.5% by 2030, he noted.

“To think that with this 4.5% of global emissions you can save the world is not realistic,” Oettinger said. “It is arrogant or stupid. We need a global commitment.”

The EU’s proposed 2030 package will now be discussed at a European summit of EU heads of state in March, before a new proposal is revealed in September, three months before an international climate summit meets in Lima, Peru.

A final package should then be agreed before July 2015, ahead of a climate summit in Paris that is supposed to forge a binding global agreement.

As well as addressing climate issues, Oettinger, a Christian Democrat from Germany, said that in the long-term Europe might import gas from Iraq, Nigeria, Libya and Qatar.

Shale gas 'pioneers'

He hailed the UK and Poland as cheap energy “pioneers” for their efforts to exploit shale gas and said that perhaps the US could export some of its shale here.

“Europe is on the way to deindustrialise and the US has a different strategy,” he said.

Oettinger’s speech did not chime with the Commission’s own recent ‘Trends to 2050’ analysis which forecast a 32% CO2 cut by 2030 under a business-as-usual scenario.

Environmentalists say that including surplus carbon allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System would take this figure to 40% without additional efforts. Friends of the Earth spokesman Brook Riley dubbed Oettinger’s remarks “utter nonsense”.

As a whole, the EU sees a strong commitment to cutting greenhouse gases as key to persuading other countries to make similar pledges.

'Consistently wrong'

EurActiv understands that some of Oettinger’s colleagues reacted to his speech with laughter. “It is pretty outrageous,” one EU source said, “but it is how he has been behaving.”

“He has been consistent through this whole process,” the source added. “Unfortunately, he has been consistently wrong.”

Maria Van der Hoeven, the executive director of the International Energy Agency implicitly criticized a lack of focus on energy efficiency in the EU’s climate package. Energy savings should play a “central role” in any pragmatic strategy to reduce emissions, she said.

“The EU can foster investment in renewable energies and interconnections and support indigenous resource development, including from shale gas, but the key to adapting to higher energy prices in the longer term will be energy efficiency,” van den Hoeven told the conference.

“Efficiency can lower demand and affect relative competitiveness and market development,” she added.

Polish welcome

But the commissioner’s rallying call was welcomed by Henryka Bochniarz, president of the Polish employers’ federation Lewiatan, who said that she did not usually feel very comfortable with EU bureaucrats but Oettinger’s missive was “what we have been lacking in the past”.

Emma Marcegaglia the president of BusinessEurope, Europe's employers association also backed Oettinger, saying that the 40% greenhouse gas target would only be seen as realistic if a global deal was signed at the UN climate conference in Paris.

“We must make sure we are not once again a lone frontrunner without followers, as has happened before,” she said.

Oettinger’s speech was a keynote part of a BusinesEurope conference, which launched a series of policy calls, including:

  • Strengthened competitiveness in energy and climate policy by avoiding carbon leakage, setting realistic targets and expanding shale gas production
  • Making labour markets more flexible by more consideration of employers’ needs
  • Opening foreign markets through trade deals such as TTIP with the US
  • Improving business access to finance

Speakers at the event including the EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso, the speaker of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and the industry commissioner Antonio Tajani, all of whom praised the platform.

Tajani noted that the EU CO2 reduction target still had to be approved by the EU's 28 member states and said that no new ‘carbon leakage’ rules would be applied on businesses before 2021 under the bloc’s new climate and energy package.

“This is a good message for a company,” he said.

The Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, said his country was “being transformed from a red tape economy to a red carpet economy for foreign investors”.

“Whatever the weather we have to move together,” Schulz told the assembled delegates, summing up a mood that coalesced around the need to relax EU regulations and weaken collective bargaining rights.

  • February 2014: European parliament Plenary will vote on their position on 2030 targets, which conflicts with the Commission's
  • March 2014: EU Council will discuss climate and energy issues
  • May 2014: New EU Parliament to be elected
  • May 2014: EU member states must prepare schemes for their energy companies to deliver annual energy savings of 1.5% as part of the Energy Efficiency Directive
  • June 2014: Review of progress towards meeting the 2020 energy efficiency target
  • June 2014: EU Council will discuss energy and climate issues
  • December 2014: International climate summit in Lima, Peru
  • December 2015: International climate summit in Paris, France due to sign off on global agreement
  • 2020: Deadline for new international climate deal to come into effect
  • 2020: Deadline for EU states to meet binding targets for 20% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, improvements in energy efficiency, and market share for renewable energy


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Mike Parr's picture

I do wish Gunther would stop talking about himself (“stupid and arrogant”) it shows a certain egotism.

However, he will be glad to hear that me & him are united with respect to "ambitious compromise and I am a little bit sceptical" - me to/ With respect to being sceptical: the probability is that Europe will reach 40% probably in 2026."Ambitious compromise" only in so far as it needs to get past a collection of doorknobs otherwise known as member states.

I did like the bit on BusinessEurope (motto: we want companies to waste energy) and the TTIP: "Opening foreign markets through trade deals such as TTIP with the US" erm... so the US market is closed to Europe? BusinessEurope - experts in strawmen construction.

Rapidly becoming disenchanted's picture

“It is arrogant or stupid. We need a global commitment.”

How the hell are you going to to negotiate a global commitment with your pathetic offer of a 40% emissions cut, let alone if you badmouth it!?

Zdzislaw Meglicki's picture

Americans will not toe the line on this. Our goal is cheap energy and growing economy. And we will fight the government, in the Congress, if they try to block this by signing up to some international agreements. The US Constitution specifies that international treaties must be approved by two thirds of the votes in the Senate--fat chance of this happening without bipartisan support. We know today that the science of "global warming" is deeply flawed. Most of it is faked. It ignores natural climate change mechanisms, some of which provide effective thermostat for the planet. The observed cooling, if it continues, will further diminish the standing of the "AGW theory," and our national will to do anything about carbon dioxide emissions. Right now, this very same science tell us that the emissions are beneficial to the planet as they enhance plant growth, without which billions would starve. The developing nations are just as likely to reject any attempts to impose restrictions on their development and rightly so. In summary, Europe is likely to find itself alone, its industries leaving in droves for greener pastures, unemployment growing and debt bloating. Your choice.

Anuschka's picture

Interesting article, but some mistakes in the details:

The climate summits in Lima, Peru and Paris, France are taking place in December not in September of 2014 and 2015 respectively and are part of the annual negotiation cycles under the UNFCCC.

In September 2014, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will host a Climate Summit at the UN Headquarters in New York, which is additional.

The IEA executive director is called Maria van der Hoeven.