‘People’ to take centre stage in EU Commission’s new energy policy

Kadri Simson, the EU's recently appointed energy commissioner, rings a bell during an EU competitivness council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 30 November 2017. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

“People, planet and partnerships” will be the three pillars of the European Commission’s energy policy over the next five years, said Kadri Simson, the EU’s recently-appointed Energy Commissioner, announcing a “massive renovation wave” to tackle energy poverty.

Next week, the European Commission is expected to lay out its plans for a European Green Deal, an agenda designed to bring the EU’s economy to net-zero emissions by 2050.

All sectors of the economy will be asked to contribute, including transport, buildings and agriculture – where emissions continue to grow. But energy will play a central role, as it is responsible for more than 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, Simson said.

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The incoming European Commission of Ursula von der Leyen is preparing a raft of new climate and environmental laws as part of a European Green Deal due to be unveiled on 11 December. EURACTIV got hold of a first draft, which is still subject to change.

Outlining her priorities to EU energy ministers in Brussels yesterday (4 December), the Estonian official said “three pillars will carry the weight of the energy transition: people, planet and partners.”

“The first pillar is the people,” Simson said, arguing Europe won’t be able to achieve climate neutrality unless it can show “tangible benefits” for consumers, households, and SMEs.

Tackling energy poverty will be a key priority in this context, she indicated, saying up to 50 million Europeans are currently unable to properly heat their homes.

“We need to trigger a massive renovation wave,” Simson said, echoing comments from Commission first vice president Frans Timermans who promised a large-scale building renovation programme during his confirmation hearing in Parliament last month.

The objective, Simson said, is to “triple the existing rate of renovations,” of buildings, which  currently stands at about 1- 2% of the building stock renovated each year.

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Under the second pillar, “planet”, the Commission will table plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions “further and faster,” including “a comprehensive plan to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030”.

New targets for energy efficiency and renewables are also in the pipeline in order to align recently adopted EU directives with Europe’s increased climate ambition for 2030.

Importantly, a “just transition mechanism” with “sufficient firepower” will be launched to support people who are the most affected by the energy transition, including coal-dependent countries like Poland, islands and communities at risk of losing jobs.

“We must avoid creating new divides in Europe,” Simson stressed, saying the energy transition is also an industrial strategy to improve the competitiveness of EU regions. “In short, I will keep the people centre stage,” she promised.

Finally under the third pillar, “partnerships”, the Commission will address international cooperation, putting a greater emphasis on Africa and Europe’s southern neighbourhood. This will also include a controversial proposal for a carbon tax at the EU’s border in order to protect European industries from unfair competition.

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[Edited by Samuel Stolton]

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