Debate rages as Brussels fires starting gun on 2030 energy strategy

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The European Commission has drawn up battle lines for the debate on 2030 climate and energy targets with a Green Paper that sidelines energy efficiency and signposts possible shifts to sectoral goals, regulatory measures and increased use of carbon market funds.

In accord with member state opinion, moves towards a sole 2030 greenhouse gas emission-reduction target of 40% seem to be gaining traction, although the door on a 30% target for renewables has not been fully closed.

But the draft Green Paper consultation document, which EURACTIV has seen, turns the lock on an energy savings goal until after a review next year of progress towards meeting 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.

Commission to review efficiency targets in 2014

“The EU framework for energy efficiency policy has just been updated through the adoption of the Energy Efficiency Directive and a review will be carried out in 2014 with respect to the 2020 target,” the paper says. “Discussions on a 2030 energy savings target must be seen in this context.”

>> Read our LinksDossier: Energy Efficiency Directive: Completing an energy policy puzzle

Within the EU’s energy efficiency community a debate is raging over whether it would be wiser to push for a postponement of a final decision on climate targets until after 2014, when a new European Parliament and Commission will also arrive in Brussels.

“You can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the ETS alone,” said Randall Bowie, a veteran energy efficiency consultant and advisor to EU governments. “You also need a package that takes into account energy efficiency and renewables and the links between the three.”

“If that can’t be done, then I would wait [until after 2014],” he added. “The Commission could still come out with a strong statement on the need for a greenhouse gas reductions target but it is dangerous to rush it if you end up leaving out the other two elements.”

Scorched hopes

Others, though, are concerned that the next European Parliament elections in 2014 could bring a wave of Eurosceptic conservatives into Brussels, and scorch hopes of a comprehensive new climate package.

“People assume we will have a good Commission and a reasonably good Parliament, but my experience has been that this Parliament is shit, the one before was even worse and they are getting progressively worse and worse,” one seasoned analyst told EURACTIV. “You have got to go for what you need to keep things alive.”

Josche Muth, secretary-general of the European Renewable Energy Council, attempted to straddle both camps.

“It is certainly not the right moment to wait for a later date or to just have one or two targets,” he told EURACTIV. “We have to look at all the three sectors as there’s a high interdependency between them.”

Because of the long lead-in times for investment and the transposition of EU legislation into national statutes, the renewables sector is acutely vulnerable to delays in target-setting.

On track for 2020?

The Green Paper is due to be published on Wednesday 27 March, alongside two other communications, and a progress report on renewable energy.

Unlike its energy savings target, the EU executive believe that it will meet its goal of sourcing a 20% share of the electricity mix to renewables in 2020, but Muth points out that it is basing this belief on statistics from 2010.  

“Due to strong austerity measures, we’ve seen negative regulatory developments in the last year and a half, not least retrospective changes to support mechanisms in several countries,” he said. “All that makes the curve for member states steeper, and the overall picture a bit more blurry.”

In terms of preserving international leadership and global clean-energy competitiveness, the document fell short, he argued.

While recognising the need for the share of renewables in Europe’s grid to rise 30% by 2030, the draft paper also signals a rethink on public support for maturing renewable technologies and the possible use of the ETS regulatory measures and sectoral goals in place of a binding 2030 target.

Piecemeal reforms

A 2030 greenhouse gas reductions target is reportedly the minimum that the European Commission’s climate directorate will settle for, as a means of saving the Emissions Trading System (ETS), because its backloading proposal will not sufficiently buoy carbon prices.

For other sectors though, piecemeal reforms are flagged. “Consideration will also have to be given to whether progress on energy efficiency would best be driven by targets for Member States or by sector specific targets,” the paper says.

At present, in the absence of a binding energy savings obligation, the European Commission has passed several pieces of legislation to realise the voluntary 20% goal, such as the European Performance in Buildings Directive, the ecodesign framework and the Energy Efficiency Directive. 

Bernard Laponche, an energy efficiency expert and consultant to several EU governments, told EURACTIV that this approach had been proved to be mistaken.

“It is not easy to give proper sectoral targets because the share of each sector is different from country to country,” he said. “Some people will make more efforts in one sector, and a little less in another.”

“It’s dangerous if you only define targets on greenhouse gas reductions and then give other targets which are second degree because politicians will immediately consider that they are less important,” he added.


Another area flagged for review in the Green Paper is whether the metrics for energy savings should continue to be measured in absolute energy consumption terms, or shifted over to a relative ‘energy intensity’ target. 

“While an absolute target might better ensure the overall savings objective, a relative target might better take into account the dynamics of the EU economy and the reality of economic development,” the paper says.

However, any EU climate target can risk overlapping with the EU’s Emissions Trading System, as increased energy savings or use of renewables lowers emissions and thus demand for carbon allowances.

“This in turn can weaken the price signal of the ETS for innovation and investments in efficiency and the deployment of low-carbon technologies whilst not affecting attainment of the overall GHG reduction target,” the paper says.

Substantial weight in the document is given to concerns from Europe’s energy-intensive sector about international competitiveness, carbon leakage and energy prices and the differing capacities of member states to meet over-arching climate goals.

Europe aims to reduce its primary energy use by 20% by 2020, a target which is not legally binding. The Energy Efficiency Directive was proposed by the European Commission in mid-2011 as part of its effort to reach this objective. To do this, the EU will need to more than double its energy savings efforts, according to the Commission's estimates.

In its draft energy efficiency directive, the Commission proposed individual measures for each of the sectors that could play a role in reducing energy consumption, including an obligation on energy companies to reduce their deliveries to customers by 1.5% each year, that has proved complex and in many quarters controversial.

  • 27 March 2013: Green Paper on 2030 targets expected
  • By end of 2013: Communication on 2030 targets expected
  • 2014: Review of progress towards meeting the 2020 energy efficiency target
  • May 2014: EU member states must prepare schemes for their energy companies to deliver annual energy savings of 1.5%
  • 2014, 2016: European Commission to review the directive.
  • 2020: Deadline for EU states to meet voluntary 20% energy-efficiency target

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