WWF gives Europe ‘E’ for effort on climate

A new report commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on EU climate policies condemns what it sees as a "standstill in long-term strategies". It cites in particular a decline in support for renewable energy sources in the course of the financial crisis.

The report grades both EU-level policies and those of the 27 member states according to an A to G scale. These go from a high of 'D' for countries like Denmark and Germany to 'F' for Luxembourg and Greece. The 27 EU member states as a whole get an 'E'.

Other findings include a claim that the EU's emission trading system will fail to achieve a decarbonised economy by 2050, as "the current trajectory overshoots this goal by 20 years." The report prescribes a number of treatments including a carbon tax, a legal agreement on targets beyond 2020, and reforming farm policy to take climate change into account.

The report was funded by the European Climate Foundation and written by Ecofys, a consultancy specialising in renewable energy and climate policy.

Austerity measures hurt renewables

The report highlights the role of the financial crisis in reducing public spending on 'green' policies and in particular support for renewable sources of energy in several countries including the Spain, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Spain is singled out for its reduction of subsidies for solar power. While the report says the decline in subsidies for solar was "partially justified", this was done "retroactively", in a way likely to frighten potential investors.

"That means that the project that you are developing all of a sudden has a different value. That's very, very disruptive for the market," said Niklas Höhne, Ecofys's director for energy and climate policy.

Worst offenders in Eastern Europe

Central and Eastern European countries tend to be lower ranked in the report. Poland, Romania and Bulgaria are criticised for providing inadequate plans for the implementation of the EU's goals for energy efficiency and renewables in industry.

Nonetheless, the report stresses out that "In every country in the European Union there is an example of positive action. A wider application of these policies across the EU would result in further reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

Bulgaria and Romania, for example, are praised for passing laws to improve management of forests. However, sometimes this "positive action" was decidedly minimal. Slovakia, for example, is praised for having "reinstated their ministry of environment".

Jason Anderson, head of EU climate and energy policy at the WWF, suggested it is understandable that less wealthy countries are less willing to finance climate commitments because of other budget priorities.

"You can't continue to have the impression in [Central and Eastern European countries] that they are bearing a burden without a light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

Brussels' growing role

The report points to the increasing influence of Brussels in national environmental policies, saying: "The majority of new policy developments in EU member states are either direct implementation of EU legislation or are linked to EU legislation."

The report gives a 'B' grade to EU policies on renewables, praising in particular the binding target for 20% renewable electricity by 2020 as "quite ambitious". Most other areas – including energy efficiency, emissions trading and eco-design – are largely graded negatively, either because targets are insufficient or non-binding.

The WWF also complains of the lack of any "climate perspective" in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), by far the biggest item in EU spending, taking up some 40% of the budget.

The inclusion of environmental and climate issues in CAP reform proposals for 2014-2020 has been controversial and will be subject to protracted negotiations in the coming months.

"Everybody treats the Common Agricultural Policy with a certain level of trepidation because it's this huge area of interest to farmers around Europe and they know that it's difficult to reform in a fundamental way," Anderson said.

Background

The EU has set itself a legally binding goal to reduce its emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020. Moreover, it has pledged to raise this to 30% if other countries make comparable commitments.

The EU agreed a new Renewable Energies Directive in December 2008, which turns into law its binding target to source 20% of the bloc's energy from renewable sources by 2020.

In October 2009, EU leaders endorsed a long-term target of reducing collective developed country emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This is in line with the recommendations of the UN's scientific arm - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - for preventing catastrophic changes to the Earth's climate.

Timeline

  • 29 Nov. - 9 Dec.: UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa.

Further Reading