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.
“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.