COP21 could trigger a cleantech arms race

Solar power will have a large role to play if the international community is to hit its emission-reduction targets. [Justin Elliott/Flickr]

As COP21 kicks off, there is discord in Germany between politicians and scientists who expect strong economic impetus from a robust agreement, and industry leaders who fear an imbalance with national objectives. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Paris should be a turning point in climate policy, as the international community meets to negotiate an ambitious climate policy. Whether the phase out of fossil fuels by 2050 is possible, and whether the nations of the world will be able to usher in a new era of energy, remains a controversial debate.

“We must end CO2 emissions by 2050, otherwise, climate change will be unstoppable,” said MEP Rebecca Harms (Greens). This will only be possible if the EU commits to long-term ambitious goals. “The EU cannot hide behind the inadequate G7 targets,” Harms added.

The G7 agreed to reduce emissions by between 40 and 70% by 2050. Many experts believe that this is totally inadequate though. Harms is convinced that if the EU wants to achieve the two degrees target, then the member states and Commission must both set higher targets for themselves at Paris.

>>Read: Live: #COP21

A study carried out by the Berlin Institute of Applied Ecology and commissioned by the Federal Environment Ministry shows that the target is reachable, at least in Germany, and that long-term economic benefits are to be expected.

According to the authors, the industrialised nations will have to eliminate their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions almost completely by 2050.

This would require all sectors of the economy to commit to ambitious emissions reduction targets. Reducing GHGs is possible in a number of ways. “With a 90% reduction target in the transport and construction sectors, there will be an additional demand for renewable energy. At the same time, we see that, for example, in agriculture, the reduction potential is limited,” said Julia Repenning of the Berlin Institute.

Nitrous oxide and methane emissions could potentially be reduced significantly, but the agricultural sector generally uses a lot of biological processes that are currently unavoidable and irreplaceable.

>>Read: German 2020 climate targets in danger

Two further measures are also absolutely necessary, according to scientists. Firstly, primary energy consumption must be reduced by 50% of current levels and, secondly, use of renewable energy must be increased. In real terms, an ambitious climate policy must increase renewable capacity by 500% by 2050. Wind, followed by solar energy, should play the most important role. A switch to electric cars and more energy-efficient buildings and household appliances would also be needed.

Opposition comes from the industrial sector, which has concerns about the impact climate targets will have on competition. Jörg Rothermel, head of the association of energy-intensive industries (EID) in Germany complained that there are regions around the world where energy-intensive industries do not have to commit to stringent targets. “Europe is the only place where a framework for climate protection has been established for the entire manufacturing industry,” said Rothermel.

>>Read: ETS reform: EU tightens screw on ‘carbon leakage’ handouts for polluting industries

The European Commission is currently working on tightening its emissions trading scheme, with a view to implementing it in 2021. Rothermel claimed that German industry could be hit with a bill of more than €5 billion as a result. In terms of addressing carbon leakage, in which industries move production to countries with less stringent climate policies, the Commission is yet to find an answer.

However, Jo Leinen, an SPD climate expert, sees Europe as a leader and pioneer in tackling climate change. “Europe must take a leading role in facilitating the switch to climate-friendly tech in emerging and developing countries,” he said. Leinen is convinced that climate protection will trigger a sort of arms race focused on new clean technology between America, China and Europe. “The EU and its member states must use this opportunity to rethink their investment,” he concluded.

EU leaders have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. But heads of state and government watered down the 2030 targets for renewables and for energy efficiency, which are not binding at national level. They lowered a European Commission-proposed 30% increase to at least 27%. That was seen as a backwards step after the binding 20% 2020 targets for efficiency and renewables agreed in the past.

The 2030 targets were a signal of intent before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21). They form the basis of the EU's negotiating position at the COP21 in Paris, which will try and agree an international deal to cap global warming. Depending on the results of the COP21, the Commission and Council could revise the 2030 targets.

The Energy Union is part of the political response to the threat to EU gas supplies. The majority of Russian gas imports to the EU, about 30% of its annual needs, goes through Ukraine. In 2009, Russia turned off the taps, causing shortages in the EU.

Plans for the Union have developed beyond questions of security of supply to encompass issues such as fighting climate change. 

The European Union's Energy Efficiency Directive in late 2012 was expected to trigger the largest revamp of Europe's existing building stock to date and set new standards for public procurement and energy audits. But implementation of the rules at national level has been poor. The EED is as close as the EU comes to an EU-wide energy efficiency strategy anchored by legislation. It is earmarked to be revamped. 

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