Oettinger hails ‘wide agreement’ on 2030 energy targets, but doubts persist

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Europe is in “wide agreement” on the need for a CO2 emissions target for 2030, divided on including renewable energy, and averting its eyes from an energy savings goal, the EU’s energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, said after an informal energy council in Vilnius on 20 September.

But a Commission unofficial ‘non-paper’ for the meeting seen by EURACTIV, shows that consensus on everything except the 40% CO2 reduction goal is far from wide, and murmurs from officials suggest a deeper unease at the direction the 2030 debate is taking.

“There was wide agreement that a new CO2 emissions reductions goal is necessary [for] 2030,” Oettinger said at a press conference after the meeting, adding: “there were opinions for and against developing a new goal for renewable energies and also some disagreement about what form this should take.”

Where energy savings were concerned though, the EU already had an energy efficiency directive that would be reviewed next year, he said. 

The French president François Hollande added his voice to those calling for a 40% target as the council was wrapping up, telling an energy conference in Paris that “Europe must set an example”. 

But EURACTIV understands that senior officials in Brussels are privately concerned that the current models for a greenhouse gas savings target ranging between 35%-45% would “constrain” potential energy efficiency and renewables policies.

An impact assessment into 2030 targets will be published later this year but officials worry that it will only consider policy for reaching a 40% CO2 cut, from options available under one predefined instrument – the EU’s crisis-plagued Emissions Trading System (ETS).

EURACTIV has learned that a Primes model used for the assessment was calibrated to omit inputs showing several cost-saving effects of energy savings and renewables policy, such as increased property values (from building renovations), and lower health bills and climate-related costs.

Non-paper

“This is a fossil fuel lobbyist’s delight,” said Brook Riley, a spokesman for environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Europe. “The Commission is using biased assumptions which undermine the case for energy savings and renewables. Europe will pay the price in high energy costs and ever-increasing oil and gas imports.”

The EU’s energy priorities appear to be in flux, however, with the Council’s non-paper highlighting competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability as the new “prime objectives”.

The paper, based on consultations with 14 member states, cites a “broad consensus” that the ETS “should remain a central instrument for the transition to a low carbon economy and in particular to reach the greenhouse gas emissions' reduction target.”

“There is great awareness,” it says, “that EU climate and energy policy should give greater consideration to the consequences of the on-going economic crisis, international developments and, in particular, their potential adverse effects on European competitiveness”.

Many member states express “concerns about the increasing cost of certain climate and energy policies," the document says.

Member state divisions

Such concerns are reflected in the member state divisions that the non-paper reveals. Poland is opposed to any CO2 reductions target before 2015, while the Czech Republic and Romania would accept one “only in the case of a global agreement”.  

While Denmark and Austria favour a renewable energy target, France would only back one at a later date based on a partial harmonisation of renewable support schemes. Romania wants a target set by member states themselves while the UK and Czech Republic explicitly oppose any clean energy goals.

London and Prague also oppose energy savings targets, Denmark and Portugal support them and France, Austria and Cyprus want the discussion postponed until after 2014, the document says.

Environmentalists contend that the European Commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, a former environmental stalwart, is pushing only for a greenhouse gas target for 2030 as a legacy measure before the end of this parliament in May 2014.

“Barroso talks a good talk on climate change but a 40% greenhouse gas target for 2030 would be a declaration that the EU has given up on its commitment to limit global warming to safe levels,” Riley said, adding that the Commission president was putting short-term political pragmatism before environmental policies.

Jason Anderson, head of climate and energy at WWF told EURACTIV: "The range of options favoured by Member State respondents [in the non-paper] should give the Commission some confidence that there is space to negotiate agreement with Council. The idea that there should be a single GHG target backed by the ETS looks dead, since there is considerable support for alternative options, including those which incorporate renewable energy and efficiency. The elephant in the room is the lack of a clear statement by Germany. Once the election is done, they should return to the EU table to back policies that reinforce both their own and Europe's energy transition, which should inject some more ambition into the discussion. What's most important now, though, is for the Commission to analyse and present policies that incorporate the level of ambition that lines up with the EU's commitment to help avoid dangerous climate change, and which truly turns the page on the dinosaur energy systems of the past. With an objective and forward-thinking communication on the table, Council and Parliament will have the tools needed to endorse a strong package."

A group of 61 companies, including Alstom, Dong and EnBW, sent the following letter to the EU's energy and climate commissioners: The transition to a sustainable economy is a tremendous chance to boost economic growth and create new jobs while securing environmental protection. With the 20-20-20 policy framework the European Union (EU) has set a clear direction for its energy and climate policies up to 2020. However, 2030 is already at our doorstep. Given the long investment cycles in the energy sector and the fact that investment decisions in the EU’s liberalised energy markets strongly depend on reliability, certainty about the regulatory framework of the next 17 years is needed. Such a framework bears the opportunity to reduce the current costs of uncertainty, mobilise the needed funding, help to protect the environment, decrease the costs of decarbonisation, facilitate the creation of new jobs and enhance the EU’s technology leadership. We, as a group of 61 European companies and associations, strongly believe that a new climate and energy framework for 2030 needs to be based on mutually reinforcing tools and targets, including a legally binding target for renewable energy, and urge all policy makers to support a strong and ambitious regulatory framework for the years to come.

The EU’s Green Paper for 2030 climate targets 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 renewable energy may 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.

  • 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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