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27/08/2016

Denmark signals fight for tougher 2030 climate and clean energy goals

Science & Policymaking

Denmark signals fight for tougher 2030 climate and clean energy goals

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EXCLUSIVE / Copenhagen is preparing a push for stronger EU-wide 2030 climate and energy goals despite tough opposition from states such as the UK and Poland, the Danish climate and energy minister, Martin Lidegaard, has told EurActiv.

Lidegaard said he was “very, very satisfied” that the EU climate and energy package announced in Brussels last week had got Europe’s states to pledge a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, as measured against 1990 levels.

But the goal of sourcing 27% of the bloc’s energy from renewables by 2030 is only binding at EU-level, leaving individual states to go their own way, and raising questions of how Brussels will pull them back if they stray too far.

“I actually think that what came out [of the European Commission] was too compromised,” Lidegaard said over the phone from the World Economic Forum in Davos. “We were happy that we got a binding target. We just want to ensure that it will actually be binding and we would like a more ambitious level.”

EurActiv understands that Denmark is also likely to seek stronger language on energy efficiency targets – which the package only mentioned in the vaguest terms – ahead of an EU leaders’ summit in March.

The UK won an opt-out of binding renewables targets at national level in the package. But this was merely “the suggestion of a compromise, and it will of course have to be negotiated in the weeks and months to come,” Lidegaard said.

“It’s going to be a pretty tough debate but we are ready from the Danish side and we expect to put a formal Danish position on the table within weeks,” he added.

Denmark is one of the EU’s cleanest energy providers and has what it calls “the most ambitious energy plan in the world” to use renewable sources for half of its electricity needs by 2020, and for all of its energy and transport needs by 2050.

Last ditch phone call

Because of this, Copenhagen views advance knowledge of how the continent’s renewable capacity will change as a “precondition” to cost-effective decarbonisation. Grid expansion, market integration and capacity factors all need to be planned for, officials say.

In a last ditch bid to shore up support for a binding renewables goal, the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, called European Commission President José Manuel Barroso the night before the decision was taken, according to Lidegaard.

The new German energy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, was especially “proactive” in pushing for a binding 27% renewable target, Lidegaard said, while like-minded countries such as Ireland, France and Italy also had an impact.

In Lidegaard's view, it was “too early to say” whether Poland would veto some areas of the package, which it has been hostile to, at the European Council level.

“We will have a rather hard political debate about this because we have very different points of view,” he said. But only a “few” member states wanted the EU to wait until after 2015 before setting new climate targets, Lidegaard added.

Perfidious Albion?

Across Brussels, one view spanning the gamut, from environmentalists to industry, sees a British hand behind the pen that inked last week's 2030 climate and energy package – and behind that, an increasingly Eurosceptic population.  

The UK, which had not previously been very influential in EU climate politics, this time won positions for: a 40% greenhouse gas emissions target; no binding national renewable target, no efficiency goals, no binding shale gas law, and an end to the Fuel Quality Directive.

“If there’s one person to blame for the lack of a renewables target, it is [UK Prime Minister] David Cameron,” a senior source in energy intensive industry commented. “If he’d said the UK wanted a renewables target the balance of power might have shifted.”

“Britain is faced with citizens that don’t want the EU to tell them what to do and have a high scepticism arising from high energy prices,” the official continued. “Its position coincided with a general mood. The social consensus of 2007 [when the first climate package was signed] just isn’t there anymore.”

National competence

Britain argues that energy is a recognised national competence and that binding renewable targets could interfere with its plans to lower emissions with shale gas, nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage programmes.

Its position is thought to be supported by Poland, Spain and a sprinkling of Eastern European countries.  

But environmentalists are sceptical that the UK's agenda will enable it to decarbonise, and fear the consequences of accommodating it within Europe's climate and energy policy.

Shortly before the package was announced, the Green MEP Claude Turmes accused President Barroso and his secretary-general, Catherine Day, of “manipulating in order to please the British,” and so advance his future career prospects.

Lidegaard would only say that London had played a “very strong role in gathering a green growth group to promote the idea of an ambitious CO2 target”.

Background

The EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework package was presented on 22 January 2014 as a successor to the three 20-20-20 targets of 20% greenhouse gas cuts, improvements in energy efficiency and renewable energy market penetration, all by 2020. The energy efficiency goal is non-binding and remains the only one the bloc is not on track to meet.

For 2030, the EU framework has proposed:

  • A 40% greenhouse gas reduction target that is binding at nation state level and may not be met by carbon offsets
  • The use of carbon offsets to meet further emissions reduction commitments made in international climate talks
  • A 27% renewable energy target that is binding at an aggregate European level but voluntary for individual member states
  • No consideration of any new energy efficiency target until after a June 2014 review of the Energy Efficiency Directive  
  • Non-binding shale gas recommendations which could be made binding after a review in 2015
  • A market reserve facility for the Emissions Trading System, with the power to withhold or release up to 100 million allowances
  • An end to the Fuel Quality Directive, which mandates reductions in the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels, by 2020

The package was widely received as a compromise reflecting the balance of power between various member states at the European Council. It will now be discussed by MEPs at the European Parliament and EU heads of state at the European Council before a final version is agreed.

Timeline

  • 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
  • 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

Further Reading