EU climate ambitions clouded by calendar issues


EXCLUSIVE / EU heads of states preparing for a summit opening in Brussels tomorrow (20 March) are divided about when to adopt a new climate change target, as the European Commission’s preferred 40% greenhouse gas reductions goal hoves into the distance.

Draft summit conclusions, seen by EURACTIV, highlight the scale of the divisions, with two dates offered for signing off on an agreed European position on the proposed greenhouse gas reduction goal.  

A common position to be submitted to the December 2015 UN climate summit in Paris should be ready “by the first quarter of 2015,” one passage reads. The next page flags a decision on a 2030 package to reduce greenhouse gas output “before the end of the year”.

This raises the prospect of the EU relinquishing its global leadership role in the UNFCCC process as “a solid agreement has to be built a long time before,” according to French negotiators.

The EU leaders' discussion on climate and energy targets is shelved behind the two main topics – growth, competitiveness and jobs, and industrial competitiveness.

The first sentence of the climate and energy conclusions begins with the stated objective that policy must “ensure affordable energy prices, industrial competitiveness, security of supply and achievement of our climate and environmental objectives,” in a display of how far global warming has fallen down the EU’s political agenda.

Poland, with some support from eastern European countries appears to have won a push for no decision to be taken on 2030 climate and energy targets until 2015, despite nominal opposition from powerful bloc players such as the UK, France and Germany.

The Commission issued a proposal last January for a 40% emissions reductions scenario with 27% of the EU’s total energy mix coming from renewables, although member states could choose their own clean energy ratio.

France had expected to convince emerging countries and the US to make a strong commitment to a global deal by adopting a strong European position at this week's EU summit meeting.

That now seems unlikely to happen. The two timeframes underlined in the draft conclusions reveal the gap between countries on the climate issue. Other energy topics quoted in the draft conclusions do not show great ambition either.

The document repeats an EU commitment from 2002 for member states to achieve interconnection of at least 10% of installed electricity production capacity in a “speedy” fashion. The target should have been reached in 2005.

The EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework package was presented on 22 January 2014 as a successor to the three 20-20-20 targets of 20% greenhouse gas cuts, improvements in energy efficiency and renewable energy market penetration, all by 2020. The energy efficiency goal is non-binding and remains the only one the bloc is not on track to meet.

For 2030, the EU framework has proposed:

  • A 40% greenhouse gas reduction target that is binding at nation state level and may not be met by carbon offsets
  • The use of carbon offsets to meet further emissions reduction commitments made in international climate talks
  • A 27% renewable energy target that is binding at an aggregate European level but voluntary for individual member states
  • No consideration of any new energy efficiency target until after a June 2014 review of the Energy Efficiency Directive  
  • Non-binding shale gas recommendations which could be made binding after a review in 2015
  • A market reserve facility for the Emissions Trading System, with the power to withhold or release up to 100 million allowances
  • An end to the Fuel Quality Directive, which mandates reductions in the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels, by 2020

The package was widely received as a compromise reflecting the balance of power between various member states at the European Council. It will now be discussed by MEPs at the European Parliament and EU heads of state at the European Council before a final version is agreed.

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