EU must cut emissions and adapt to climate change now, auditors urge

The review warned that a number of member states have not taken full advantage of EU funding available for renewable energy projects. [Shutterstock]

A wide-reaching report on the European Union’s climate action has urged Brussels to step up emissions cuts and adapt more quickly to climate change because its current efforts were not sufficient.

In a new landscape review by the European Court of Auditors, the EU’s energy and climate change policies came under scrutiny, with the report concluding that Brussels will have to make additional efforts if it is to meet ts 2030 and 2050 emission reductions targets.

The review warned that the current trajectory of emissions reduction is insufficient and that the 2030 targets will need annual emission reductions to increase by 50% over the next ten years. The auditors also noted that, beyond 2030, the rate will need to outpace historic levels by 300%-400%.

The auditors’ report, which drew on its team’s own findings as well as on significant investigations done by its national counterparts, emphasised the significance of energy production and use, given that this accounts for 79% of EU emissions.

It acknowledged the importance of the internal energy market but highlighted a number of factors that have proved to be obstacles to its completion.

These include differences in the way member states are implementing the legal framework, infrastructure that still cannot provide full security of supply in an integrated market and problematic cooperation on cross-border projects, for example, between Germany and Poland.

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How member states are moving toward their own energy targets was also put under the microscope. Energy audits showed there has been a lack of cost-effectiveness and investment obstacles have sprung up.

Many member states have failed to use all the EU funding available to them for use in renewable energy projects, particularly when compared to spending on energy efficiency initiatives, which the auditors claim could harm investment.

The report also found that cost-effectiveness was not made a priority when planning renewable energy projects, citing examples in Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom, among others.

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Nuclear power in particular has also experienced significant delays in both construction and decommissioning, as well as rising costs. The report referenced previous findings by the ECA on decommissioning efforts in a number of ex-Soviet bloc countries.

These findings come as the UK struggles to justify the delays and escalating costs of a new reactor at its Hinkley Point facility, after a recent auction of support contracts revealed that offshore wind is now cheaper than new nuclear projects.

Other member states, such as Poland and Finland, are also embracing nuclear or have ambitious plans to do so, despite question marks over funding and persistent negative public opinion.

Poland to treat coal addiction by embracing nuclear power

Poland’s ongoing large-scale investment in three new coal-fired power plants may be the country’s last fossil fuel venture, its energy minister said on Wednesday (6 September), indicating a possible energy shift in the EU’s largest eastern member amid revived plans to embrace nuclear power.

The court also found that the shift to low carbon transport is not taking place at a sufficient rate, warning that unlike other sectors, where emissions have declined, transport has seen an increase, particularly since 2014, when the economic recovery began to pick up.

The European Commission will seek to address that concern shortly, with a long-awaited proposal on cutting transport emissions.

The report acknowledged EU-wide efforts to set emission limits on cars and vans sold in the bloc but it also highlighted the current testing methodology’s underestimation of real-world scenarios.

It added that a new testing regime will be in place as of this month, in response to the Dieselgate scandal, which has caused 5,000 deaths in Europe a year according to a new study.

Even if EU policies succeed in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the report said that climate change adaption measures will still need to be implemented. It warned that Europe’s climate will be significantly different by the end of the century even if the Paris Agreement’s main targets are met.

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Phil Wynn Owen, a member of the audit team, said that it will be “a great challenge for the EU and member states correctly to anticipate and plan adaptation, reducing the need to act late, in response to events, which would cost more.”

The review noted that the 2013 EU Adaptation Strategy encourages member state action but also that it is not mandatory. Under the strategy, countries are urged to come up with national plans by the end of this year and to start implementing them by 2020.

Europe’s recent spate of forest fires, severe flooding and the impact extreme weather and drought could have on migration were cited as examples why the EU must get ready for unavoidable climate change before it is too late.

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