European leaders must end energy business-as-usual

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Short-term economic concerns appear to have edged the environment out of the picture ahead of next week’s EU summit dedicated to energy issues, writes Brook Riley.

Brook Riley is a campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

European leaders will be meeting on 22 May to discuss energy policy, and as usual, the conclusions have been written before the talks have even begun.

What's striking is seeing how economic concerns have edged the environment out of the picture. There is just one reference to the climate, but eighteen to prices, costs, and competitiveness.

This is more than alarming. The EU has made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 95% by the middle of the century. To get there, everyone knows energy production must become completely carbon free, and EU energy and climate policies need to reflect this. Instead, official head of state thinking goes that climate action mustn’t compromise jobs and growth.

This is music to the ears of lobby groups like BusinessEurope, which earlier this month complained that the EU’s climate plans for 2030 were “too much driven by the climate” (imagine if health plans were rejected as ‘too much driven by health’).

Seen from the executive floor, climate change and sea level rises might not be much of a threat. But EU decision makers should be coming down hard on industry opposition. The economic facts are staring them in the face. Already in 2006, the Stern Review concluded that the costs of climate change (5% GDP per annum) outweighed the costs of avoiding it (2% GDP per annum). The President of the World Bank has said “we need to be shocked into action”.

Meanwhile climate science is telling us the situation is getting worse all the time. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has just exceeded 400 parts per million. The last time such values prevailed on Earth was in the Pliocene epoch, 4 million years ago, when jungles covered northern Canada. There's no denying the impacts of man-made climate change or that urgent, drastic action is needed.

Amidst all this gloom, the good news is that the benefits of climate action really do outweigh the costs. On a purely technological basis, the EU Commission judges energy efficiency and renewables no more expensive than fossil fuels and nuclear. And this is without factoring in the costs of oil, gas and coal imports. A report by research group Ecofys concluded that the EU could save €250 billion per year with ambitious energy savings policies.

European leaders and those who write their official conclusions are plainly correct to put economic and energy policy on the same page. But they need to get with the times. Just as the current economic model landed us in today's financial mess, so the traditional reliance on fossil fuels has brought about the climate crisis.

Our leaders need to end energy-as-usual and our reliance on fossil fuels. They need to embrace real green policies, including binding targets to cut emissions, save energy and develop renewable energies. Only then will we have conclusions worth reading.

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