EU leaders Thursday night (23 October) committed by 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40%, and increase energy efficiency and renewables by at least 27%.
French President François Hollande said the deal would send a clear message to big polluters such as China and the United States ahead of UN talks in Paris next year to agree global legally binding greenhouse gas emissions.
A special “flexibility clause” was added to the final text, making it possible for the European Council to return to the targets after the UN summit in December 2015.
But Hollande told reporters that the clause was not dependent on the Paris talks, as the Council can revisit the targets anytime.
Hollande, who will host the negotiations, said it was a “conclusive and definitive” agreement. It was essential a deal was reached before the Paris summit next year, he said.
Efficiency and renewables targets watered down
But the efficiency and renewables targets were watered down. The European Commission had called for an efficiency goal of 30%. That was reduced to 27% across the EU. The EU level target is not legally binding at the national level or EU level and will be reviewed in 2020 “having in mind” a 30% EU-level target, according to the summit conclusions.
The renewables target of at least 27% is binding at EU-wide level but, after opposition from countries such as the United Kingdom, it will not be binding at national level. All three targets are compared to 1990 levels.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also noted that the climate agreement has made the EU capable of being an important player on the international stage. She said that the binding target of at least 27% renewables was particularly important to Germany and that those member states, that want to do more, are able to do so under this agreement.
“Germany will not have a hard time [living up to the targets]. We have already set tougher national targets,” said the German chancellor.
Merkel stressed that while the 40% emissions reduction target is going to be broken down to individual member states based on their GDP per capita, those countries that will have lower targets would have to do more in other areas.
Free allowances of carbon emissions to poorer countries will continue after 2020 to offset competition from countries not subject to EU climate laws.
The deal was condemned by groups such as Greenpeace and Oxfam as being too weak. “It is shocking that business leaders called for more ambitious targets than those agreed by EU leaders,” Oxfam said.
Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said the deal would not cost her country. Poland was the country that mostly opposed ambitious climate goals, fearing for its coal power plants.
“I said that we will not return from this summit with new [financial] burdens, and indeed there are no new burdens,” Kopacz told Polish reporters.
Agreement was also reached on increasing the interconnectivity of Europe’s energy markets.
Interconnectivity is an important part of the EU’s plans for Energy Union, which is partly intended to wean some member states off their dependence on Russian gas. Merkel said the EU is sending gas to Ukraine by reverse energy flows, but this would stop if it began to hurt the EU.
Spain and Portugal were pushing for a binding obligation for member states to make 15% of their national generation capacity available to other EU nations. They have long argued that they have been prevented from selling their surplus renewable energy to France, which they accuse of protecting its nuclear industry.
Instead, EU leaders renewed their 2002 commitment to increase energy trading through electricity connectors to 10% by 2020. Built into that is a commitment to subsequently up that percentage to 15%. The agreement specifically names so-called “energy islands” – Spain Portugal and the Baltic states. They should have the highest priority, according to the conclusions.
Malta, Cyprus and Greece also needed special attention, EU leaders agreed.
Regarding energy security in the context of the Ukraine crisis, EU leaders endorsed further actions to reduce the EU’s energy dependence and increase its energy security for both electricity and gas.
Without going into detail, EU leaders agreed to implement critical projects of common interest in the gas sector, such as the North-South corridor, the Southern Gas Corridor, and the promotion of a new gas hub in Southern Europe. Also mentioned were key infrastructure projects enhancing Finland’s and the Baltic States’ energy security. These countries were singled out as the most vulnerable in the case of a complete disruption of Russian gas supplies.
The Commission was also tasked to set up task forces on specific interconnectors with member states for the purpose of their speedy implementation. Member states are “encouraged” to provide ex-ante information in the field of their energy agreements with “third countries”, which basically means Russia.
The European Commission will monitor progress on the issue and will report on financing possibilities. The Council invited the executive to make legislative proposals on funding, if appropriate.
Asked if the deal represented a genuine chance of attitude from the French, Hollande said his country had always understood where Spain and Portugal were coming from.
But it was also important to respect environmental law he said. France has argued the links across the Pyrenees could violate those laws.
But advances in technological innovation in the coming years would minimise that, Hollande said.