Efficiency lags behind in EU’s triple energy target


This article is part of our special report Resource Efficiency.

Only four EU countries are on course to meet their energy efficiency target for 2020, while the Union is broadly on track to meet its renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, the European Environment Agency says in a new report.

In the report released yesterday (9 October), the EEA provides an overview of progress on the EU’s energy objectives for the year 2020.

These targets, also called the '20/20/20 targets', include a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20% rise in the share of renewable resources to Europe’s energy needs, and 20% more efficiency in energy use across the EU.

The first objective is likely to be met as the EU reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 18% between 1990 and 2012. "The EU is very close to reaching [this target], eight years ahead of 2020,” and could even exceed its target by four percentage points, the report says. The fifteen EU member states that joined before 2004 (the so-called EU15) are doing even better, and are overachieving on their Kyoto Protocol targets by 5.5% on average, the report notes.

The second target, on renewable energy, is also on track. Renewables contributed 13% of the EU’s energy consumption in 2011, with their share expected to rise to 20% in 2020, just enough to reach the objective.

But hitting the third target on energy efficiency remains a great challenge, the report says, urging EU countries to take swift action to redress the situation.

Complex picture on national level

The EEA report paints a more complex picture at the member state level. Not a single country is on track to meet all three targets at the same time but none is lagging behind on all three targets at once either.

Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA's executive director, said that “to achieve the emissions cuts demanded by science, member States must ensure that they are not making choices today that become obstacles to a low carbon future”.

An overall assessment shows that Belgium, Estonia, Malta and Spain have the least to show for.

Six countries – Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain – will have to step up their efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, even with policy measures in the pipeline, these countries are not expected to reach their CO2 reduction target.

On renewable energy sources, six member states – Belgium, France, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands and the UK – have failed to reach their 2011-2012 targets.

But energy efficiency comes out as the main area where member states should aim higher, with all but four countries lagging behind in terms of policy initiatives, due to insufficient enforcement and the impact of the economic crisis, the report says.

Yesterday (9 October), EURACTIV reported European Council President Herman Van Rompuy's call for a strategy on energy efficiency in Europe’s building stock, a sector that requires particular attention if the EU is to make its energy efficiency goals. In an unusually direct speech, Van Rompuy said that such a strategy could create two million new jobs in the EU.

The EU’s long-term budget, or multi-annual financial framework for 2014-2020, will more than double the amount of funding for energy efficiency in buildings to around €23 billion.

Connie Hedegaard, the EU's climate action commissioner, said in a statement: "The EU has reduced its emissions significantly since 1990 while expanding its economy. This further demonstrates that climate policy can be implemented in a way that fosters jobs and growth. Our 20% reduction target for 2020 is also within reach thanks to our climate and energy legislation. And through additional policies, we're actually on track to overachieve our target."

The triple objective on energy is part of the EU’s ‘Europe 2020 targets’ and is also known as the "20/20/20 targets”. The three objectives for 20202 are:

  • A 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, compared to 1990 levels.
  • A rise of 20% in the share of renewable resources contribution to the EU’s energy needs.
  • Making energy consumption across the EU 20% more efficient.

The targets were endorsed by the European Council in 2007 and implemented through the EU’s 2009 climate and energy package and the 2012 energy efficiency directive. 

  • 2014: EU pledged to review progress towards energy efficiency 2020 targets.
  • 2016: European Commission to review the Energy Efficiency Directive.
  • 2020: Deadline for EU states to meet voluntary obligation to reduce energy output by 20%, measured against 2005 levels.

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