COVID-19 health crisis threatens EU’s green objectives, says IEA

This decrease in renewable energy investments could jeopardise the EU's environmental objectives for 2030, which include using a third of clean energy by 2030, as well as improving energy efficiency by 32.5%. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

While the COVID-19 crisis has had a positive impact on the energy sector by reducing emissions of polluting gases, it has also hampered green investments, making it difficult to implement the EU climate programme. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

In a report published on Thursday (25 June), the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned of the drop in energy production and consumption caused by the pandemic, which could make it easier to meet targets for cutting emissions and increasing green energy production in Europe by the end of the year.

However, such short-term satisfaction could lead to other consequences that would make it impossible to achieve the European Commission’s medium- and long-term objectives.

The IEA points out that the number of investments in renewable energy has fallen by a third compared to 2019 – and this figure could be halved for photovoltaics, a “historical” record.

This decrease in investment could jeopardise the EU’s environmental objectives for 2030, which include using a third of clean energy by 2030, as well as improving energy efficiency by 32.5%.

Moreover, the post-crisis recovery will undoubtedly lead to an increase in CO2 emissions, which is likely to be accelerated by the fall in prices for raw materials.

The IEA considers that the EU, whose energy production generates 75% of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions, needs to curb this rise, whether in terms of consumption, industry or transport.

In recent months, due to containment and a 20% drop in demand for coal in the first quarter of 2020, carbon emissions have fallen, and renewable energy production has increased.

For the year as a whole, the IEA predicts a 10% drop in energy demand in Europe compared to 2019, a decline that would be twice that recorded during the 2008 financial crisis.

In the first quarter of 2020, CO2 emissions from energy production fell by 8%, confirming the trend of recent years, with a 17% decrease compared to 2005 and a 23% decrease compared to 1990.

The increasing use of green energy has contributed to this fall. Wind power, in particular, generated 32% of European electricity in 2018.

And while the consumption of more polluting energies is also discouraged from a legal point of view, the EU appears to be lagging when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

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Energy efficiency has made less progress in private consumption, industry and transport and is performing “below expectations”, according to the IEA.

This is due to increased demand from road and air transport, which has increased pre-containment emissions.

And while the IEA’s current estimates point to the EU being able to cut emissions in these areas by 10% compared to 2005 levels, the EU’s 2030 30% reduction target will be further away, according to the agency.

The agency reminds the EU that it aims to cut transport emissions by 90% by 2050, meaning that 75% of road freight will have to be transported by rail or air.

At the same time, the production of electric vehicles – expected to reach 13 million in Europe by 2025 – must be boosted, the agency says, and governments can contribute to this goal by integrating it into their national post-crisis stimulus packages.

Moreover, only 20% of households were powered by green energy in 2018, and the energy consumption of buildings, which stands at 40% in the EU, could also be improved, the agency added.

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