Europe can make 30% emissions cuts, EU figures show

Connie Hedegaard April 2011_Picnik.jpg

A 30% cut in greenhouse gas emissions is possible by 2020 if Europe meets its efficiency targets, according to the maths used by Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

But no-one in the Commission will say this publicly for two reasons. 

One is that the dry figures involved hint at a well-known and still simmering dispute between the European Commission's climate and energy departments – DG Clima and DG Energy.

The other is that a lack of inter-departmental coordination has turned the issue into a technical dog's dinner.

Number discrepancies

Officially, the Commission's climate department maintains that a 25% reduction in planet-warming gases by 2020 is possible – if only the EU's goal of a 20% improvement on energy efficiency is also met.

Page 55 of the impact assessment detailing its Low Carbon Roadmap for 2050 projects an energy consumption rate in Europe of 1,740 Million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) by 2020.

By stark contrast, Page 2 of the communication accompanying the Energy Efficiency Plan, drawn up by DG Energy, predicts that just 1,600 Mtoe will be consumed by 2020.

Commission officials confirm that the 140 Mtoe discrepancy occurred because the scenarios used in the Low Carbon Roadmap do not assume an achievement of the 20% energy efficiency target, perhaps because it is not legally binding.

But if it were achieved, DG Clima's maths shows that the assumed 25% cut in atmosphere-baking gases would in fact be bounced up five points, to 30%.

This is because the Commission's mathematical model values one Mtoe at two Million tonnes of CO2 (Mt CO2) and so 140 Mtoe = 280 Mt CO2. In 1990, the baseline year for the EU's 2020's targets, CO2 emissions were 5,567 Mt CO2. If you divide 280 into 5,567, you will get 5% of the total CO2 emissions for 1990.

A 'politically sensitive' issue

The discrepancy is recognised by officials within the Commission, although none of those contacted by EURACTIV would go on the record with a comment.

One EU source described the issue as "politically sensitive". 

"There are a lot of political problems here," he said.

EURACTIV understands that both the energy and climate directorates of the Commission used the PRIMES model to calculate their figures.

But co-ordination between the two DGs was affected by long-standing tensions.

According to one official, DG Energy was "very reluctant" to work with DG Clima on any statistics that could be used to link energy efficiency with emissions reductions, including the energy consumption figures used in the Roadmap's Impact Assessment.

Their skittishness masked a core policy disagreement.

Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger favours maintaining the EU's current 20% emissions reduction target for 2020, which he sees as the maximum that can be achieved without a "de-industrialisation" of Europe.

But Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard wants it raised to help the EU's longer-term goal of 80-95% cuts by 2050.

This is the minimum that scientists believe is needed to avoid more than two degrees of global warming, which could be catastrophic.

CO2 emissions in the EU-27 countries have already fallen substantially since 1990 and, although picking up again after the recession, may still be on course to exceed the official target of a 20% reduction by 2020.

Green cheers

Environmentalists heralded the prospect of their reaching 30% with joy. Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth, who discovered the statistical anomaly with Arianna Vitali of World Wildlife Fund, described it as a "breakthrough".

"This is Commission proof that we can do 30% domestically," he enthused, "not with offsetting or 15% here and 15% somewhere with a phoney CDM credit. It is 30% in Europe and it's not an NGO saying it, it's the Commission."

All that was needed, he argued, was for a strong energy efficiency directive in June to recommend that the EU's efficiency targets be made binding.

In a reaction to EURACTIV's article, Connie Hedegaard's spokesperson, Isaac Valero-Ladron, admitted that that "the Low Carbon Economy roadmap modelling does not assume that the indicative Energy Efficiency target is automatically met".

However, he adds that "the indication in the article that implementing the 20% efficiency target would lead to 30% emission reductions is incorrect as it mixes up targets and measures. It assumes that a carbon price would be in place to reach 25%, which is not the case, and then adds energy efficiency on top of that".

"The roadmap impact assessment (p.55) includes a detailed calculation showing that reaching the 20% indicative energy efficiency target would in principle enable GHG emission reductions of 25%, but not 30%," Valero-Ladron said.

In March 2007, EU heads of state and government endorsed the first EU energy action plan and called on the European Commission to prepare a new action plan for the post-2010 period.

Some offshoots of the current action plan have included far-reaching energy liberalisation proposals, the climate and energy package and the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan).

The 'Europe 2020' strategy proposal, presented by the Commission in March 2010, incorporated the 2020 climate goals in its flagship initiative to promote a resource-efficient Europe.

Last May, EU ministers gave their first views on the upcoming EU energy strategy for 2011-2020, agreeing that it should be ready for endorsement by EU leaders in March 2011.


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