Parliament battle lines drawn over energy targets

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The chair of the European Parliament's environment committee has warned the EU executive that it will face a fight over enforceable energy-efficiency limits.

"The Parliament will strongly lobby for a binding target," Jo Leinen told EURACTIV. "We can criticise the executive of the EU and at the very end we can even sanction the Commission if there is a strong will."

The German Socialist MEP said that the Parliament would be reporting back to Commission President José Manuel Barroso on energy efficiency as part of inter-institutional protocol.

"Since we have positioned ourselves more than once for a binding 2020 target, I think we will get a large majority this time again," he said.

A 20% improvement in energy savings is the only one of the EU's three 2020 targets that is not compulsory, and the only one not on track to be met. Instead, savings of just 9-11% are forecast.

The other EU goals are for a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 20% increase in the share of renewables in its energy mix, all measured against 1990 levels.

Towards the end of last year, environmentalists had been optimistic that the Commission might push for action on the efficiency targets, after President Barroso called for "concrete steps" to be taken towards the EU's goal.

Countries not on track

But a draft of the Commission's Energy Efficiency Action Plan obtained by EURACTIV says that for the next two years, the Commission will only monitor the implementation of national efficiency targets.

"If, nevertheless, the 2013 review shows that the overall EU target is unlikely to be achieved," the document states, "then as a second stage the Commission will consider whether to propose legally binding national targets".

EU diplomats say that 20 states have so far submitted their energy efficiency National Reform Programmes ahead of an April deadline.

However, the average reduction on 2020 figures involved is said to be just -14%.

"It's disappointing that even after the energy summit in February, the Commission is still not learning the lesson," Leinen complained.

The Commission proposals were "too hesitant and half-hearted," he said, "and we are losing too much time".

Targets established in 2013 would probably only apply after 2014 and half of the most decisive decade for halting global warming would already be lost by then, he explained.  

The vice-chair of Leinen's committee, Green MEP Carl Shlyter, is fiercely committed to a 30% energy efficiency target for 2020, but also tactically cautious.  

"We can propose binding targets in Parliament," he suggested "but then we'll face a problem when the energy directive comes to be directly implemented".

Even so, "we still have a chance to push the Commission further," he added.

Less contentious measures in the efficiency plan include the establishment of national energy saving obligation schemes in all member states, and the development of public procurement criteria that incorporate efficiency standards.

The Commission will propose that public authorities be required to refurbish at least 3% of their buildings a year to bring them up to the standard of the top tenth of national building stock.

From 2019, new buildings in all public bodies subject to EU directives will have to reach a "nearly-zero energy" performance level.

"The Commission is being hypocritical with the crucial question of energy savings," Brook Riley, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told EURACTIV.

"The latest draft of the Commission's Energy Efficiency Plan admits we are not on track to meet the 2020 target - but delays a decision on binding legislation until 2013. This is totally inconsistent with the EU Parliament's support for a binding target and figures already submitted by the member states which make it clear that stronger action is required now. The Commission talks a lot about energy prices and fossil fuel imports but seems to forget that the cheapest and safest energy is the energy we don't use."

Many EU member states reject mandatory goals for energy efficiency, but say they support the aspiration to make greater savings. The UK, for example, welcomes the priority given to energy efficiency as a chance to take stock of progress to date and consider improvements.

But "we do not believe that additional national energy efficiency targets – binding or otherwise – are necessary to deliver improvements to energy efficiency," a British diplomat told EURACTIV.

"Existing targets for emissions reductions under the Emissions Trading Scheme and the Renewable Energy Directive already provide powerful drivers for improvements and we do not consider that additional targets would deliver any additional energy savings," the official continued.

"What will deliver energy savings is targeted, practical action to address the existing barriers to energy efficiency."

Amanda Afifi, secretary-general of EuroAce, the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings said that a binding target was needed because many member states did not have roadmaps for dealing with their existing building stock. "It would at least set the agenda and framework and force them to look at the issue," she said. "If they have a target to achieve, it will focus minds. It is important to start now because we have a goal of decarbonisation by 2050."

"With buildings representing 40% of Europe's energy consumption you have to renovate - to a deep level - a very high percentage of the building stock by 2050," she continued "and you won't be able to do that in the last ten years between 2040 and 2050. Even if you started now, you'd have to renovate five million buildings a year every year until 2050."

As well as the technical issues, training and financing issues were also involved, "so what we want is for the EU to set a binding overall target for the building sector and then for the member states to look at how they are going to meet it given their local, national and regional circumstances," she said.

The target of consuming 20% less energy by 2020 was first presented by the European Commission in October 2006. It was intended as a means to help counter climate change, make cost savings, and reduce Europe's dependency on imported oil and gas.

The energy savings from the move were expected to allow Europe to reduce its CO2 emissions by 780 million tonnes and save €100 billion in fuel costs, all of which would far outweigh the initial outlay.

The means envisaged ranged from efficiency standards for products such as televisions, refrigerators, and lighting and a recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive to legislation limiting the CO2 emissions of cars.

Member states also committed to submitting national action plans to the EU executive under the Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive by June 2007. The plans were supposed to outline how each country would reach a 16% savings target by 2016.

But progress has been slow and the Commission admits that on current trends, a far more modest saving of around 9-11% is more likely.

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