The European Commission on Wednesday (23 July) proposed reducing the bloc's energy use by 30% by 2030, leaving it up to EU heads of states to decide whether or not to endorse the target at a forthcoming summit in October.
The EU executive has been considering new targets to replace the EU's existing 2020 goals to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, ramp up renewable energies and increase energy savings.
“I’m happy that the Commission unanimously agreed on a proposal for a 30% higher efficiency target,” said Günther Oettinger, the EU Commissioner responsible for energy policy.
The European Commission called the target "achievable" yet "ambitious", arguing in its communication that it “strikes the right balance between benefits and costs”.
Tensions between Europe and Russia since the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane put the issue of energy security once more on the agenda of policy makers. Over the past few days, civil society as well as EU parliamentarians stressed that more energy efficiency will reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas.
But, said the German Commissioner, “the target cannot be measured solely in one specific fossil fuel. Whether the reduction [of the energy use] is done in the gas sector, oil sector or coal sector depends on the energy policy, on the ETS policy and on national policies”.
Member states pressure
In recent weeks, the European Commission’s ambitions on energy efficiency have dropped considerably. A report by the Commission, seen by EurActiv in June, showed a target of 40% was under consideration.
Asked why the Commission did not opt for a more ambitious target, the Commissioner pointed out that efficiency requires renovations of buildings or homes, as well as investments in innovation for utilities or products.
“The 30% target has a decent chance to get support in the European Council,” Oettinger said, suggesting that a higher target would likely be refused.
Ahead of the European Commission's announcement, France’s energy minister was reported to support the 30% figure as a compromise, together with Germany.
“We’ve been discussing the issue of energy efficiency more intensely with the member states, but also with the European Parliament,” Oettinger stated. “It is the figure we are going to take to the Council and we’re going to ask for feedback: is it something you can support politically and are you willing to make it binding.”
In October, the communication will land on the table of national governments in Council. While member states are expected to go for the suggested target, another key question is whether that should be binding or not.
Following the announcement, civil society organisations, as well as business representatives, called the decision of the Commission to land at 30% “downright irresponsible” and “a recipe for failure”. MEPs from all mainstream factions in the Europe, too, spoke out clearly, stressing that the European Parliament backed a 40% target earlier this year. (See positions below.)
Targets for 2020 not reached
EurActiv reported Wednesday (23 July) on the assessment on the EU’s 2020 targets, released jointly with the 2030 target. The EU will fail to reach its goals on saving energy and improving energy efficiency, the Commission officially acknowledged on Wednesday.
“By our analysis we can say we will be achieving 18% to 19% of energy efficiency,” Oettinger commented to reporters.
According to the EU executive, the outcome for 2020 lies in the hands of member states: “If the member states were prepared to implement fully the legally binding measures, then we would achieve the 20% figure,” said Oettinger.
- European Parliament -
Belgian socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt, the S&D vice-president in charge of sustainable development, described the target as “a missed opportunity” and deplored the lack of ambition by the European Commission. “The Commission has ignored its own modelling which apparently showed that a 40% target could grow the economy at a rate of 4% a year, create an annual 3.15% boost in employment and massively cut fossil fuel imports by up to €500 billion annually,” she said.
Swedish liberal MEP Frederick Federley, who is the ALDE’s spokesperson on industry, research and energy, commented: "My hope and expectation is that the European Parliament will continue to press for a much higher binding energy efficiency target in response. ALDE MEPs remain committed to the delivery of ambitious and binding energy efficiency targets that can tackle climate change, unlock low carbon investment and deliver green jobs.”
Green energy spokesperson Claude Turmes, Luxembourgish MEP, said: "What the Commission is proposing today on energy efficiency is devoid of true ambition, is not cost-effective and will prolong Europe's dependency on fuel imports from Russia and other unreliable exporters. […] Incoming Commission president Juncker has already signalled significantly greater ambition on energy efficiency and we hope that he and EU governments will pursue this approach for the EU's 2030 policy and not the business-as-usual policy being outlined today. The non-binding 2030 energy savings target of 30% being proposed by the Commission today is at odds with the Commission's own research on which the communication was supposed to be based.”
- Civil society & business organisations -
Arianna Vitali, policy officer for energy conservation at WWF European Policy Office, said: “The Commission’s approach is a recipe for failure. The EU executive not only fails once again to suggest a binding target for 2030, but also recommends a level of ambition that is no more than a business as usual approach […] While the Commission’s draft impact assessment, leaked in June, shows that a 40% energy efficiency target in Europe would boost jobs and GDP and cut the EU’s fossil fuel import bill and dependency on Russian gas, the European Commission seems to have decided to ignore its own new data. It is now up the EU Heads of State and Government to show they are serious […].”
Markus J. Beyrer, director general of BusinessEurope, the leading EU employers' association, said: "[T]he proposed three-target approach risks, once again, being counterproductive. What companies want are immediate actions to reduce our uncompetitive energy prices in the EU. Insisting on a multi-target approach will again bring inefficiencies and additional regulatory burdens.”
Adrian Joyce, secretary general of the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE), said: “Such a weak figure for Energy Efficiency is inconsistent with what the market is asking, what citizens are asking, what member states are asking and even what evidence-based research is saying. The outgoing Commission is deliberately turning a blind eye to the increased benefits of setting a 40% Energy Efficiency target - acknowledged even in the Commission’s own Impact Assessment.”
Pieter de Pous, policy director at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) commented: “With everything pointing to a binding 40% savings target being the best for Europe, proposing anything less than that is downright irresponsible.”
Ingrid Holmes, associate director at E3G, an organisation working on sustainable development, said: “A 30% target will leave cost-effective energy savings potential untapped. In an era of rising energy prices and concerns about reliance on Russian gas this makes no sense at all. […] Let’s hope the incoming President and College of Commissioners can make an early start on sorting this mess out.”
Greenpeace's policy adviser on EU policy, Frederic Thoma, called the plan "gutless", saying "[a]n ambitious efficiency target would drastically cut the need for expensive imports of fossil fuels from Russia and elsewhere and help Europe stand up to bullies like Putin. The Commission’s own research shows efficiency could also create three-and-a-half million jobs, while helping tackle climate change. It’s a no-brainer that EU leaders cannot ignore. They must put Europe’s energy policy back on track.”
- October 2014: Member states decide on the energy efficiency targets in the EU Council
- September 2014: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon hosts climate summit in New York
- October 2014: European Council expected to agree 2030 climate and energy targets
- December 2014: UNFCCC Climate Summit in Lima, Peru
- Dec. 2015: UNFCCC Climate Summit in Paris expected to agree outline of global legally-binding climate treaty
- 2017: Next review of the measures on energy efficiency planned by the Commission
- 2020: Deadline for EU to meet target of 20% greenhouse gas reduction as measured against 1990 levels, a 20% share for renewable energy in the bloc's energy mix, and a non-binding goal of a 20% energy efficiency improvement, measured against 2005 levels