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European battle over 2030 energy system drawing to a close

  • 17 Jan 2014, 15:45
  • Robin Webster

New European energy policy goals may include an overarching target for expansion of renewable energy, according to reports. The UK has been lobbying against a binding target, which it argues will interfere with plans to build new nuclear power plants instead of wind, solar or biomass.  

Back in 2007, European Union (EU) leaders agreed to bump up the continent's supply of clean energy, obtaining 20 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020. At the time, the UK only sourced about two per cent of its energy from renewables. The legally binding commitment has profoundly affected UK energy policy, leading it to create a roadmap to the target. 

Now, EU states must agree an energy package for 2030. Three possible 2030 targets are up for grabs: one for emissions reductions, one for expansion of renewable power and one for energy efficiency. We take a look at what's likely to emerge when the European Commission unveils the details of an agreed package next week. 

Emissions reduction 

EU countries need to reduce carbon emissions by 80 to 95 per cent by the middle of the century, if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, acorrding to the European Commission's 2011 low carbon roadmap. To achieve that, the commission calculated that emissions would need to go down by 40 per cent by 2030. 

The UK supported this aim - and even suggested that the EU should bump it up to 50 per cent, if other countries outside the EU agreed to commit to emissions reductions. 

Twelve other members states supported the position that the 40 per cent aim is not ambitious enough. Others were less keen. Poland is opposed to the idea that any new emissions targets should be established at all, for example. 

The European commission is divided over the proposal, according to reports, because it may reduce the bloc's international competitiveness. European commissioners are meeting today and at the beginning of next week - and parliament's magazine European Voice suggests there is a " tense fight" going on.

The final figure is likely to end up between 35 and 45 per cent, but we probably won't know what it is until next Wednesday, when the commission releases its white paper.

Renewable energy expansion

The battle over a proposed renewable energy target seems, if anything, to be even tenser. European parliamentarians have called for a binding 30 per cent renewable energy target for 2030.  

European Member states are divided right down the middle on this. Germany, Denmark, Austria and five other European countries are actively supportive. Germany is seen as the leader of the group - perhaps unsurprising given its programme of renewable energy expansion. 

The UK and Czech Republic are, however, strongly opposed to another renewable energy target. They argue it doesn't make sense to create another technology-specific target. UK energy secretary, Ed Davey, has called on the EU to abandon the proposal so countries can reduce emissions through other technologies like nuclear power or carbon capture and storage instead. 

In recent weeks the President of European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, was rumoured to be in favour of dropping the idea for another binding renewables target. Instead the commission might go for a non-binding aim of expanding renewables to 24 to 27 per cent of supply by 2030. 

European Voice suggests today that the commission might compromise by setting a binding overarching target for renewables, but without creating country-specific targets. This could mean enthusiasts for renewables like Germany and Denmark could press ahead and meet most of the EU's target, while other countries aren't under any obligation to expand their renewable supply.

It sounds rather doubtful whether this would really work, however - and environmentalists appear to agree. A spokesperson from Greenpeace tells European Voice the proposal "...is just smokescreen from the commission to cover up its intention to hit the brakes on renewables". 

European leadership?

The importance of using energy more efficiently is often highlighted, but so far hasn't been converted into binding targets. The European Parliament also backed a 40 per cent improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. But the idea seems to have gained little traction. It appears unlikely to be included as a binding target next week. 

The commission's proposals for the three targets will be published in a white paper next Wednesday (January 22nd). The European Parliament will have a chance to vote on in February and EU leaders will consider the proposals at a climate and energy summit on 21st March - at which point they may then adopt the agreement. 

What this will mean for the EU's energy system in reality remains to be seen. A  study released by the European Commission over the Christmas period, which assumed no new 2030 targets, suggested that the continent is only on track to reduce emissions by a third by 2030, and 44 per cent by 2050.

So new targets are clearly needed if the EU is to achieve its climate ambitions and maintain its climate leadership on the international stage. Of course, the bloc needs more than targets. Countries have to deliver on them too. And that's where the hard work often starts.

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