European businesses sound 2020 green targets alarm

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BusinessEurope, the European employers' association, told EURACTIV that it supports calls made in the last two days by British and French industry associations for better environmental planning and more financial support for green industry.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) issued a report on 26 April, warning that the UK was in danger of under-shooting its 2020 targets due to a cocktail of low investment, financial risk, poor planning, delays in approving renewable energy projects and policy uncertainty.

Its concerns were echoed on 27 April by France's Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables (SER), which said that France was on track to miss its 2020 targets as a result of a lack of financial support and administrative bureaucracy, particularly for wind power projects.  

Folker Franz, climate spokesman for BusinessEurope, agreed, citing administrative delays at the national level as "a huge problem" which, he said, "needs to be thoroughly reassessed".

But he did not support EU legislation to impose binding deadlines for project approvals, and instead called for a focus on financing major trans-European projects.

"The EU can try to facilitate the financing of cross-border infrastructure, and facilitate dialogue between national actors too," he told EURACTIV.

The European Commission recently published its strategy to promote pan-European smart grids through a mixture of regulatory incentives and national action plans.

"It is obvious that we need major investments in our energy system over the next decade," Franz said. "At the EU level, the priority needs to be cross-border infrastructure, grids and pipelines."

Last month, BusinessEurope was surprised by a flurry of pleas from environmentally-friendly businesses for a deepening of the EU's emissions cuts targets to 30%.

Since then, the business debate has shifted towards how even the more moderate EU 2020 targets can be met at a time of austerity measures and uncoordinated policymaking.

In a press release, the CBI called for the UK's Green Investment Bank to issue bonds "as soon as possible" to securely bridge pension funds and capital intensive industries.

"Businesses want to get on with building new low-carbon infrastructure," the CBI's policy director Katja Hall said, "but there is still too much policy uncertainty".

"We need the government to set a clear direction of travel and to stick to it," she added.

In France, where new wind projects are often delayed by legal appeals lasting up to three years, Jean-Louis Bal, the head of SER, said his group would table new legislative proposals so that the 2020 targets could be met.

"It's not too late," he told a news conference. "But it's now that we need to raise the alarm because if we wait until 2015, then it will be too late."

As well as more financial support, "there is also a need to lift administrative constraints, especially for wind power," he said.

France has already installed some six gigawatts (GW) in wind power capacity, but SER argues that it will need to provide 25GW of wind power by 2020 to meet its goal of generating 23% of electricity demand from green energy.

The EU has set itself a legally binding goal for 2020 of reducing its CO2 emissions by 20% and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix by the same amount, both measured against 1990 levels.

A target of a 20% increase in energy efficiency has also been set but it is not legally enforceable. The low carbon roadmap in March this year stated that if it were met, emissions cuts would automatically rise to 25%, five percentage points above the target.

In October 2009, EU leaders endorsed a long-term target of reducing collective developed country emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This is in line with the recommendations of the UN's scientific arm - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - for preventing catastrophic changes to the Earth's climate.

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