Big EU guns fire for ‘crucial’ 2030 renewable targets

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Ministers from eight EU states – including Germany and France – have called on the European Commission to set “robust” renewable energy targets for 2030, in a break with an emerging consensus for one emissions-cutting goal alone. 

The call, made in a letter seen by EURACTIV, was sent to Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger on 23 December 2013.

“We must offer a robust, long-term framework supporting renewable energy sources, regardless of various views on the operational modalities,” the ministers say. “A target for renewable energy will strengthen European competitiveness and lead to more jobs and growth.”

A clean energy goal is “crucial” to providing the certainty that industry needs for cost-effective investments, the ministers argue.

The missive’s signatories include the new German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel, the French ecology minister, Philippe Martin, and the Italian environment minister, Andrea Orlando.   

On 22 January, a blockbuster EU climate and energy package is due to be unveiled, comprising new legislative proposals on subjects from shale gas and tar sands to structural carbon market reform and industrial competitiveness.

But the centrepiece of the package will be proposals for 2030 climate and energy goals that could expand upon the ‘20-20-20 targets’ of 20% emissions cuts, efficiency gains, and renewable energy market share by the decade’s end.

The ministerial letter is part of an intense lobby battle over this with the UK and other EU states, such as Poland, taking stances against clean energy goals, despite what the Commission says would be a jobs shortfall.

In a key Brussels speech last year, the British energy minister, Ed Davey, called a renewables target “inflexible and unnecessary.” It would, he said, stymie Whitehall’s energy options for gas, nuclear, and experimental technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

Brussels ‘horse trade’

Since then, the ‘GHG cuts only’ position has appeared to gain traction – and EU presidential support – in what Brussels sources say is a developing “horse trade” over the package.

Hedegaard had quietly backed a renewable energy target but did not mention the issue at all in a comment piece published yesterday [6 January] calling for ‘bold climate action’.

In this context, the EU ministers stepped into the vacant advocacy space for renewable targets, arguing that they would ease Europe’s reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports, allow grid expansions and be a driver for jobs and growth.

“We cannot afford to miss this opportunity,” concludes their missive, which also counts ministers from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and Portugal among its number.

The letter seems designed to chime with current EU thinking on the 2030 issue, as outlined in a leaked impact assessment into the economic effects of various climate policy scenarios, which EURACTIV has read.

Impact assessment

A ‘reference scenario’ in the report finds that a greenhouse gas reduction target of 40% would create 645,000 new jobs by 2030.

But if that emissions-cutting goal were meshed with a 30% renewable energy target and “ambitious, explicit” energy efficiency policies, the study says it “would generate 1.25 million additional jobs in a 2030 perspective, compared to the reference scenario.”

Perhaps most intriguingly, the report also finds that increasing taxes on energy resource use and reducing it on labour could have a “beneficial impact on growth and employment,” the current catchwords of EU policy-making.

“Therefore a tax shift from labour towards CO2 tax (in the non-ETS sectors) may reduce the cost of the climate policy,” the study says, “and even result in positive GDP and employment effects on the aggregate level.”

Frederic Thoma, an energy spokesperson for Greenpeace, said: "The ministers' statement is a breath of fresh air that should get the EU's climate and energy debate moving in the right direction. Their insistence on a target for renewable energy as well as emission cuts is key to ensuring that we build a durable energy system and move away from dirty fossil fuel imports."

A European Commission consultation document (or 'Green Paper') for the EU's 2030 climate and energy policy mentions a potential greenhouse gas emission-reduction target of 40%, and does not close the door on a 30% target for the proportion of energy that renewables should make up by 2030.

But the consultation document suggests that progress on a new energy savings goal be delayed until after a review next year of progress towards reaching the bloc’s 2020 target, despite recognising that this is non- binding, and unlikely to be met. 

The EU currently has three 2020 climate plans – for 20% improvements on the continent’s CO2 emissions, renewables and energy consumption performances. This latter is to be met by a variety of means.

  • 22 January 2014: EU climate package to be announced
  • May 2014: New EU Parliament to be elected
  • May 2014: EU member states must prepare schemes for their energy companies to deliver annual energy savings of 1.5% as part of the Energy Efficiency Directive
  • June 2014: Review of progress towards meeting the 2020 energy efficiency target
  • 2020: Deadline for EU states to meet binding targets for 20% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, improvements in energy efficiency, and market share for renewable energy

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