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
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.
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.
opposed to the idea that any new
emissions targets should be established at all, for
The European commission is divided over the proposal,
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
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
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
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".
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
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.