MEPs go on warpath over energy efficiency days before COP21

Kathleen Van Brempt and other MEPs are on the warpath. [European Parliament/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE/ MEPs have stepped up pressure on the European Commission over its decision to effectively cap any increase to the EU’s 2030 energy efficiency targets, just days before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) begins.

The COP21 opens in Paris in less than a week (30 November) and aims to secure a worldwide agreement to limit global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. The EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets, which include efficiency, are the basis of its negotiating position and are a central plank of the bloc’s fight against climate change.

But Commission research and analysis on the impact of different energy efficiency targets risked being weak and unambitious, warned a cross-party group of 13 MEPs yesterday (24 November).

Research to underpin revisions to the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), which will put the 2030 goal into EU law, will only analyse up to a maximum increase of 33% to the target, EURACTIV revealed last week.

>>Read: Commission ‘pre-emptive strike’ puts cap on EU energy efficiency targets

Such impact assessments are increasingly a pre-condition for law to be backed by co-legislators, meaning a failure to research higher percentages would effectively curb efforts to boost the 2030 goal.

“Only analysing a 33% target pre-empts and pre-judges policy decisions on the efficiency targets, and ties the Parliament’s hands,” said Kathleen Van Brempt, the Socialists and Democrats’ vice-president for sustainability. “It also sends entirely the wrong message about the EU’s ambitions for climate action before the COP21.”

35% and 40% targets should also be analysed, demanded MEPs in a letter to Maroš Šef?ovi?, the Commission Vice-President in charge of Energy Union, and Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete

Not doing so would ignore repeated calls from the European Parliament for more ambitious and binding energy efficiency policies, said the MEPs from the European People’s Party, S&D, Greens, Liberals and Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group.

It would also ignore earlier Commission analysis that showed that a 40% target would bolster the EU’s energy security, boost local employment and increase GDP far more than lower percentages.

The revised EED can only become law once an identical text is agreed by both Council and the Parliament. The European Parliament backed a 40% 2030 target in an October 2015 resolution about the COP21. 

A push to boost the target and make it legally binding was defeated in the Parliament’s energy committee on 10 November, but supporters are bullish that will be overturned on 15 December in a plenary vote.

>>Read: MEPs fail to boost EU renewables, efficiency targets before COP21

The Commission had pushed for a 30% increase in efficiency by 2030 but that was watered down to a non-binding hike of at least 27% by EU leaders in October 2014. The executive will likely push for 30% in the new EED but appears to have admitted defeat on making it binding. 

The 33% preliminary decision, confirmed by internal documents seen by EURACTIV, was not finalised, the Commission said today. Concrete modelling work on energy efficiency scenarios will only start at the beginning of 2016, it said.

Belgian MEP Van Brempt called on Šef?ovi? and Cañete to overrule their officials, and make good on their oft-repeated promise to put “energy efficiency first”.

90% of EU legislation related to the bloc’s flagship Energy Union strategy to fight climate change and bolster energy security is planned for 2016, which made robust, objective impact assessments a must, MEPs said in the letter. 

“In particular the energy efficiency target needs review and reinforcement, as we are not currently on track to reach our 2020 target,” they added. 

>>Read: Commission outlines Energy Union legislative path

>>Read: EU member states not reaching 2020 energy efficiency goals, Commission says

Brook Riley, of Friends of the Earth Europe, warned that MEPs were going “on the warpath”. The Commission would realise it had bitten off more than it could chew with what Green MEP Claude Turmes had branded was a “pre-emptive strike”.

“It’s absurd to cap the modelling at 33% – the only explanation that fits is that the Commission is falling back into the disastrous policy of appeasement of the Barroso years,” said Riley.

Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned environmental consultancy Ecofys to run a cost-benefit analysis using the same research methodology as the executive will start using in 2016. It found that the best level for an energy efficiency target, on purely economic grounds such as GDP increase, was just over 35%. 

EU leaders have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. But heads of state and government watered down the 2030 targets for renewables and for energy efficiency, which are not binding at national level. They lowered a European Commission-proposed 30% increase to at least 27%. That was seen as a backwards step after the binding 20% 2020 targets for efficiency and renewables agreed in the past.

The 2030 targets were a signal of intent before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21). They form the basis of the EU's negotiating position at the COP21 in Paris, which will try and agree an international deal to cap global warming. Depending on the results of the COP21, the Commission and Council could revise the 2030 targets.

The Energy Union is part of the political response to the threat to EU gas supplies. The majority of Russian gas imports to the EU, about 30% of its annual needs, goes through Ukraine. In 2009, Russia turned off the taps, causing shortages in the EU.

Plans for the Union have developed beyond questions of security of supply to encompass issues such as fighting climate change. 

The European Union's Energy Efficiency Directive in late 2012 was expected to trigger the largest revamp of Europe's existing building stock to date and set new standards for public procurement and energy audits. But implementation of the rules at national level has been poor. The EED is as close as the EU comes to an EU-wide energy efficiency strategy anchored by legislation. It is earmarked to be revamped. 

  • 30 November: Start of COP21
  • 15 December: Plenary vote on Energy Union report
  • 2016: Delivery of Energy Union legislation

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