Germany’s economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, sent out a rallying call for a binding energy efficiency target to be readied by 2030 in talks at the EU’s Energy Council in Luxembourg on 13 June.

“We have failed considerably to consider the importance of energy efficiency,” Gabriel told the assembled ministers, noting that in 2012, EU states spent more than a billion euros a day on fossil fuel imports. Increasing imports of Liquefied Natural Gas would only increase this sum, he added.  

“If we talk about reducing dependency on imports, we cannot afford not to avail ourselves of one of the main instruments available for this – energy savings,” he said. “We should decide not just on greenhouse gas and renewable energy targets. We should also set a binding target for increasing energy efficiency.”

In January, the European Commission proposed a binding 40% greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030 and a 27% share for renewable energy in the continent’s mix, although individual EU states would not be bound by this.

Brussels officials privately say that the Commission might still retain the right to introduce binding measures, if the EU as a whole veers too far from the end goal.

But energy efficiency was omitted from the 2030 picture, pending a review of the EU’s halting progress towards meeting a non-binding 20% efficiency improvement for 2020, due to be published later this summer.

Diplomats say that in private talks, Berlin has moved closer to the UK position on increasing the proposed 2030 greenhouse gas reductions target beyond 40% in UNFCCC talks, if other countries also pledge additional carbon savings.

But binding energy efficiency targets are opposed by the UK and some eastern European countries, even if momentum to reconsider the issue is growing, in part due to the Ukraine crisis.

On 18 June, the German economics ministry and Danish climate and energy ministry are co-organising a workshop to discuss the need for three 2030 climate and energy targets in Brussels.

The German experience of creating thousands of craft jobs through building renovation programmes after the financial crisis of 2008 may figure as an illustration of how growth and employment can be linked to energy saving policy.

Hearts and minds in the Eurosceptic debate

Günther Oettinger, the German energy commissioner, who has also come out for a binding efficiency target, told the Council that winning European hearts and minds in the battle with Eurosceptics would be crucial to advancing the cause of energy efficiency.

“If we want to maintain a quality of life and have fridges that are just as cold but using less electricity, lightbulbs that just provide light and [do] not heat up, then we need to win over the public and win the battle against the tabloids and Eurosceptics,” he said.

“In the European Parliament,  we now have more Eurosceptics than ever before so now more than ever we need to have a coherent position between Council and the Commission and only then will it make sense to maintain our position on energy efficiency in the 2030 package,” Oettinger added.

The EU energy ministers also agreed to limit to 7% the proportion of Europe’s fuel mix that can be made up by first generation biofuels, over fears that their cultivation could lead to increased food prices or unsustainable land use changes.