The European Parliament yesterday (9 January) voted for three binding energy and climate targets in 2030, audaciously backing a 40% energy savings improvement, but EurActiv understands that a meeting of nine EU commissioners this morning is set to endorse a far weaker text. 

A joint meeting of the Parliament’s environment and industry committees yesterday backed a motion that also called for a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, and 30% market share for renewables by 2030.

But sources close to the European Commission say that a text slated for approval by its president, José Manuel Barroso, and several other commissioners today will only support a 40% cut in CO2 emissions, and a consequent non-binding renewables target of between 24%-27% for Europe as a whole, although individual member states may go further.

The figure is in line with projections in an EU ‘Trends to 2050’ document released over the Christmas period which, under a business as usual scenario, predicted an EU-wide failure to decarbonise by 2050.   

Sources in the renewable energy industry described the proposed goal as “completely ridiculous” as the Commission’s own impact assessment had found that a sole binding greenhouse gas target would lead to an additional €350 billion of spending on fossil fuel imports.

But an argument from the UK - that a single target could be cheaper in other ways and allow governments policy flexibility - appears to have won out.

An anaemic improvement in energy efficiency is also forecast in the text to be debated by Commissioners this morning, although a final sign-off on the deal could be delayed until after the European Parliament elections in May.

“There is a strong desire to decide this whole package in the June Energy Efficiency review,” a source said. “It is a missed opportunity.”

The EU’s 2030 communication is due to be released on 22 January along with policy pronouncements on carbon market reform, shale gas, the Fuel Quality Directive and industrial competitiveness.

Heated debate

Agreed in its present form, the 2030 text will make for a heated European Parliament plenary debate in the first week of February when its own newly-minted 2030 report is due to be discussed.

Speaking immediately after the joint parliamentary committee passed the report yesterday morning, the environment committee’s chair, Matthias Groote (Socialists & Democrats), told EurActiv that MEPs were sending “a very clear message to the Commission that it has to go for three ambitious targets.”

“Our climate-sceptic colleagues have lost everything,” he added

Peter Liese (European Peoples Party), an influential German Conservative MEP told EurActiv that the MEPs vote signalled a sea change in the way Europe approached climate and energy policy.

Parliament’s position was now “fully in line with the new German government’s position,” he noted.

Jolly green German giant?

A turf war between Berlin’s green-inclined environment ministry and a more industry-friendly energy ministry recently ended with the former environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, taking the energy portfolio in a new coalition government.

Since doing so, he has already called for a 2030 renewable energy target and Liese claims that he is similarly pushing for an energy efficiency target behind the scenes. “Gabriel is a fighter,” he said.

Germany’s bearing on the 2030 vote was “a very sensitive question,” the Belgian MEP Anne Delvaux (EPP) said, “but there is a clear influence. I have the impression that the national debate in Germany comes here and tries to impose itself.”

Even so, the European Commission has long-insisted that any new energy savings goal for 2030 is moot until a June review decides whether Europe is on track to meet a non-binding 20% target for 2020. Few believe that it is, inside or outside the Commission.  

Liese flagged one possible halfway house between the Commission and Parliament before the plenary vote.

“Our most important message is that energy efficiency can’t be the orphan of climate policy, it must be much more in focus,” he said. “But there is room for negotiation. If the target was 35%, that would still be very ambitious.”

An 80% improvement in buildings efficiency by 2050 was also flagged in the report, as was a binding increase in grid interconectors, a crucial issue for the renewables industy in Portugal. 

Like other MEPs canvassed by EurActiv, Delvaux said that the passages on energy savings were the most important aspect of the new report. “We are in a crisis period and if you invest in this you will have a clear return so it should be the cornerstone of our policy, more even than renewables,” she said.

Sources in the energy efficiency industry also welcomed the vote. Manlio Valdes, the president of Ingersoll Rand Europe, Middle East and Africa, hailed it as “a fantastic first step in the right direction – although there is still some way to go.”

European businesses specialised in energy efficiency often felt let down by government leaders that opposed energy targets, he said, adding: “I don’t understand why they are not more supportive.”