Regions, cities demand more ambitious climate goals

Heating is crucial during Latvia's harsh winters. [A. Korsakova/Flickr]

On Thursday, (9 October), members of the Committee of Regions and Covenant of Mayors urged the EU Commission to purse bolder, binding 2030 climate targets, and highlighted the role of greater cooperation at the local level, in order to insure greater security of supply, especially in Eastern Europe.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions of 50%, a 40% share of renewables in energy use, and energy savings of 40% represent “a winning trio” of binding targets that the EU should commit to in its 2030 climate package, argued Annabelle Jaeger, member of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Regional Council, in a report adopted by the Committee of Regions.

By comparison, the Commission’s proposal for 40%-27%-30% targets—with the energy savings target being indicative rather than binding—is much less ambitious. On 23 October, heads of states are expected to make a decision on EU climate goals.

Jaeger emphasized that, “as demonstrated by numerous extreme climate phenomena recently, it is local authorities that bear the brunt of the consequences of inaction and that will have to pay the price of future repercussions if we fail to speed up the energy transition”.

Indeed, more than 70% of reduction measures, and up to 90% of climate change adaptations measures, are undertaken by local authorities, she explained. Their ongoing efforts, including through the Covenant of Mayors, cannot be “optimised without recognition in the form of a mandate and long-term funding”.

The Covenant of Mayors includes over 5,000 EU cities and regions which voluntarily committed to cut CO2 emissions by over 20% by 2020, an initiative that should be extended to 2030, Jaeger added.

Local solutions

Covenant members debated the role of local authorities in finding solutions to ongoing threats to security of energy supply. The risk that Russia cuts off its gas sales to Europe has recently brought that issue to the forefront of preoccupations, especially in Eastern European cities.

Energy savings in heating, a sector representing the lion’s share, or 46%, of total energy use, should be the focus of local efforts stressed Marie Donnelly, DG Energy Director.

That is even more crucial in Eastern Europe: Olga Veidina, deputy mayor of Riga, agreed: “In Latvia, winter lasts about 200 days a year and heating represents over 60% of our energy use”. 

Aside from conventional energy efficiency solutions such as insulation in public buildings for example, diversification of energy sources was seen as critical. For example, the city of Tartu, in Estonia, is using district heating, mostly fueled by local wood chips and peat, while Bielsko-Bana in Poland is developing biogas power plants using waste.

Financing was seen as the biggest hurdle however: public funding from EU or other sources is often directed at relatively large, public infrastructure projects. Thus, it would not be readily accessible, especially on short notice, if Russia turned off the taps, to solve problems such as those of Tartu, where “we have 1,900 private houses, all of them heated with gas” said Deputy Mayor Tamm.

Size matters

For smaller projects, crowdfunding (for funding of up to €1,5 million) or cooperatives were increasingly seen as viable options, said participants.

For example, EcoPower, a Belgian cooperative, has 50,000 members that each paid €250 to finance several wind farms and a cogeneration plant, among other projects.

“Cooperatives are great tools to promote effective collaboration with municipal authorities”, said the coop’s director Dirk Vansint Jan, “because both citizens and city officials share the same goal. Also, since coops involve local citizens, there are no problems of public acceptance. Stop-and-go financial support schemes for renewables are one of the greatest risks however”.

One conference participant though said that coops may take time to develop in Eastern Europe because the term “cooperative” still has a negative connotation from the Soviet times.

Scalability of projects was also seen as barrier to funding from private financial institutions as well, as recently underscored by a Eurosif (link there with SRI text) report on green investment trends.

Cross-border joint revolving funds, that is, the joining of several cities across borders in order to bid together for a single pool of financing, could be a solution to increase scale, said Marie Donnelly.

Reactions from municipality representatives were mixed due in part to existing local and national administrative barriers to such cooperation. However, Donnelly is in favour of DG Energy exploring that option further in its work to support local governments.

“The EU has developed all the legislation and funding schemes necessary to insure energy security, but in many cases, for example the internal energy market or energy efficiency directive, member states have not implemented or even transposed them correctly. In the end, it will be up to citizens and local entities to pressure their governments to act” concluded Jerzy Buzek, chair of Parliament’s industry committee.

The Commission's Communication on Energy efficiency for the '2030 Framework for climate and energy policy' assesses whether the EU is on track to reach its 2020 target to increase energy efficiency by 20%.

It outlines what is necessary to ensure that the target is achieved and proposes a new energy saving target of 30% by 2030.

It completes the 2030 Framework on Climate and Energy which was adopted by the European Commission on 22 January 2014.

The EU currently has three 2020 climate plans – for 20% improvements on the continent’s CO2 emissions, renewables and energy consumption performances. The 2030 targets are the successors of these '20-20-20 goals'.

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