Efficiency hopes pinned on Parliament after summit

MEPs could amend efficiency legislation after a bill is proposed by Juncker's Commission. [European Parliament/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Renovate for energy efficiency.

SPECIAL REPORT: Hopes of increasing energy efficiency in the EU are now pinned on the Jean-Claude Juncker’s new Commission and the European Parliament, after EU leaders watered down the 2030 efficiency target at their summit in Brussels.

Juncker’s team took over on Saturday (1 November) and will propose EU legislation, following the summit’s conclusions. The executive may propose a higher target and MEPs in the European Parliament could amend them further.

The European Commission had proposed a target to improve energy efficiency by 30% by 2030. But national governments in the Council of Ministers were unable to agree on that, finally settling on a 27% goal. 

The target is not legally binding at national level or EU level and will be reviewed in 2020 “having in mind” a 30% EU-level target, according to the summit conclusions, which were criticised by industry, NGOs and MEPs.

Some countries, notably Germany and Denmark, were pushing for a binding 30% target. Others, such as the UK, argued against a binding efficiency goal, claiming each country should have flexibility to choose the composition of its energy mix with the overarching aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The summit secured a legally binding EU-wide commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% and set a renewables goal of 27%. A special “flexibility clause” was added to the final text, making it possible for the European Council to return to the targets after the UN summit in December 2015.


In February, the Parliament voted in favour of a much higher binding 2030 efficiency target of 40%.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE group, said member states had put short term national interests ahead of the European interest.

“Instead of taking the lead in the fight against climate change, these summit conclusions put Europe on hold,” he said.

Joseph Daul, the president of the European People’s Party (EPP) said, “Europe is setting an example in the fight against climate change by committing itself to ambitious climate and energy targets.” The EPP is the largest group in the Parliament.

But other MEPs were upset that the energy efficiency target was not binding or higher.

Socialists and Democrats group president Gianni Pitella said, “There is still time to agree on more ambitious targets along the way. The Council’s compromise is a starting point. Let’s do more.”

“The European Parliament voted for three binding targets earlier this year and it must now work with the incoming European Commission to try and salvage something from this mess,” said Greens/European Free Alliance co-president Philippe Lamberts.

Paris talks

While heads of state and government praised the “ambition” of the deal, predicting it would give the EU a leading role at international climate talks in Lima and Paris, many observers were disappointed.

It is hoped that United Nations climate discussions for a legally binding global warming target will encourage leaders to revise the targets upwards.

Greenpeace EU climate policy director Joris den Blanken said the deal was just an opening bid before the climate summit in Paris in 2015.

He said, “The EU wants it climate policies to become a model for global green development, but is decelerating its commitments, while China and the US are catching up fast.”

Industry push for higher efficiency target

Adrian Joyce is secretary general of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE), which branded the package a “dismal agreement” that fell short of the Commission’s “unambitious proposal”.

“This is not good enough. Despite the numerous studies demonstrating the cost-effective potential of a higher energy efficiency target the heads of state shied away from setting a strong target,” said Joyce.

“A strong target could have unleashed investment in hard hit sectors like construction and developed multiple benefits through reduced energy dependence, a boost to public finances and improved health for EU citizens,” he added.

Jan te Bos is director-general of the European Insulation Manufacturers Association.  “It is mindboggling,” he said, “to see how our leaders have missed a historic opportunity to show leadership, vision and ambition.”

“Instead they have decided to hide behind short term national interests and to continue doing business in the past, rather than in the future,” he added.

Under EU-ASE’s leadership, 49 companies and business associations wrote to Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council. They called for a binding energy efficiency target of at least 40%, describing it as vital for a credible 2030 package.

“At a time of competitiveness concerns and fears about the affordability of the package, energy efficiency offers a compelling opportunity to reconcile growth and climate needs,” the letter said.

“It also has the capacity to address heightened European energy security and resource scarcity concerns.”

Commission analysis showed a 40% energy savings push will deliver 4.5% GDP gains. A 30% target would deliver just a 1% GDP gain, the letter said. The 40% efficiency target could cut EU energy costs by between €1 and €2 trillion between 2020 to 2030.

Commission research also showed that for every 1% increase in energy savings, EU gas imports will fall by 2.6%, the letter continued. Gas imports are a political hot potato after the Ukraine crisis highlighted the EU’s addiction to Russian gas.

Corporate leaders

The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group is a club of business leaders, including Coca Cola and Phillips, working with the University of Cambridge on sustainability.

They wrote to Van Rompuy calling for a binding target of at least 30%, while pointing out some business voices supported 40%. They welcomed the greenhouse gas target after the summit, the group branded the efficiency goal “weak”.

The Coalition for Energy Savings also called for a binding 40% target, pointing to studies that showed efficiency substantially cut system costs.  The myth that a sole greenhouse gas target is the most cost-effective was busted, said Stefan Scheuer, the secretary general. Trade association BusinessEurope had called for a single greenhouse gas emissions target, with no separate efficiency or renewables goal.

The European Trade Union Confederation said that that energy efficiency and renewable energy targets create jobs. The lower the target, the fewer the jobs that are created, it said.

Door still open

Climate campaigners told EURACTIV the package was particularly disappointing as member states agreed a target that was less ambitious than that proposed by industry.

Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth Europe, said, “This deal does nothing to end Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels or to speed up our transition to a clean energy future. It’s a deal that puts dirty industry interests ahead of citizens and the planet.”

The 27% target for energy efficiency ignores analysis by the European Commission showing that higher ambition is better for jobs, the economy and energy security, she added.

E3G is an influential environmental think tank based in Brussels. CEO Nick Mabey said the 27% target was a “go-slow” on efficiency and a strong signal for energy efficiency businesses to start to divest from Europe.

“However the door is still open to increase ambition through the European Parliament,” he said. “With 56 million Europeans unable to afford to keep their home warm and continued Russian aggression to the East, the arguments for an all-out push on efficiency have never been stronger.”

EU leaders Thursday night (23 October) committed by 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40%, and increase energy efficiency and renewables by at least 27%.

French President François Hollande said the deal would send a clear message to big polluters such as China and the United States ahead of UN talks in Paris next year to agree global legally binding greenhouse gas emissions.

The Renovate Europe campaign says that, thanks to modern technology, buildings' energy demands can be cut by 80%. But, it adds, in order for that to happen, there needs to be an effective regulatory and legislative framework in place.  

The 27% efficiency target was widely criticised as being too weak, given the  significant cuts in emissions, renovating buildings can achieve.

  • 2015: New Commission expected to table proposals to translate the 2030 targets into EU legislation
  • December 2015: UN summit in Paris expected to finalise global agreement on climate protection to replace Kyoto Protocol

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