How the EU's evolving Energy Union reveals underlying politics

  • 25 Feb 2015, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

EU flags | Shutterstock

Europe's energy system needs to be fundamentally transformed, shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels, according to the European Commission's proposals for an energy union.

A framework strategy for the energy union, published today, explains how the commission plans to achieve this transformation. The strategy attempts to create a coherent vision by synthesising all existing EU policies on climate and energy with a number of new initiatives.

Reactions so far suggest this synthesis has only been partially successful. Legal NGO ClientEarth says the strategy lacks clear rules on how EU targets will be met. Thinktank E3G says the strategy is "good on vision, but deeply confused on delivery priorities". NGO Greenpeace says the plan is "contradictory" and lacks coherence, while WWF says it has "blind spots".

Carbon Brief explains where the idea of an energy union came from and shows how the strategy text has evolved through several drafts, revealing evidence of the differing political priorities that have challenged creation of a clear and coherent strategy.

It's important to note that the commission proposal will be discussed by member state governments at meetings in March, April and June. They could propose further changes.

Moving on from Tusk's energy security union

The idea of an energy union was first proposed by European Council president and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk in an April 2014 article for the Financial Times. Tusk's proposal emphasised energy security above all.

It called for region-wide purchasing of gas, linking and strengthening the EU's electricity transmission systems, and making "full use" of EU fossil fuel reserves, including coal and shale gas.

Earlier this month, Carbon Brief produced a detailed energy union briefing based on a leaked draft strategy dated 30 January. The briefing explained how Tusk's proposal had been transformed into a more holistic strategy with five "dimensions": integrated energy markets, a new deal for energy consumers, energy efficiency, decarbonising the economy and research.

Since then, a second draft was widely leaked, including to Carbon Brief. This draft shifted emphasis in a number of key areas while the final version moves things on again. So, how has the energy union evolved in recent weeks?

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Five charts showing how BP's vision differs from a climate-friendly future

  • 19 Feb 2015, 15:00
  • Simon Evans

Oil firm BP says the world is still failing to do enough to tackle climate change, despite major policy announcements over the past year from the US, EU and China.

The latest annual Energy Outlook shows how BP sees the world changing in terms of economic growth, energy use and emissions. While BP expects countries to meet current climate pledges, it does not think they will be enough to avoid dangerous climate change.

Carbon Brief takes a look at how the media reported the Energy Outlook and how BP's vision differs from a climate-friendly future.

Rising energy use and emissions

The BP outlook predicts energy demand will grow by 37 per cent between 2013 and 2035, reports the Guardian. This is "at odds with the fight against climate change", the paper says.

A more climate-friendly future is set out in the International Energy Agency (IEA) two degrees scenario. This shows how energy efficiency must play a large part in limiting emissions.

Global energy demand increases by just 14 per cent between 2012 and 2035 in the IEA two degrees scenario, slower than over the past two decades (blue line, below). In contrast, BP expects the recent rapid growth in energy demand to continue (green line).

Global energy demand in the BP Energy Outlook and IEA two degrees scenario. Source: BP Energy Outlook 2035 and IEA World Energy Outlook 2014. Chart by Carbon Brief.

BP's outlook expects two thirds of the increase in energy demand to be met by fossil fuels, reports RTCC. Gas would overtake coal as the number one energy source, reports City AM.

The Financial Times reports BP saying that oil producers' cartel Opec will make a comeback while the Times and Independent focus on low expectations for the UK shale gas industry.

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How significant is the UK party leaders' joint climate pledge?

  • 16 Feb 2015, 15:10
  • Simon Evans

Over the weekend, the UK's three main political leaders pledged to tackle climate change after the next election, whatever the outcome on 5 May.

The Conservative's David Cameron, Labour's Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrat's Nick Clegg agreed to work towards a legally-binding global climate deal, to agree new UK emissions-cutting goals and to phase out unabated coal-fired power stations.

Carbon Brief assesses the significance of the unusual joint pre-election pledge.

Cross-party pledge

There are three parts to the party leaders' pledge, published on Saturday after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations brokered by NGOs, including Green Alliance, Christian Aid and the Women's Institute.

The leaders agree:

  • To seek a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below two degrees.

  • To work together, across party lines, to agree carbon budgets, in accordance with the Climate Change Act.

  • To accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low-carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation.

The first part of the pledge, on a legally-binding climate deal consistent with limiting warming to two degrees, is in line with official EU policy. So the UK government already supported this aim.

The wording does not specifically refer to the UN climate talks where leaders are supposed to agree a deal in Paris this December. This omission may be to allow for the chance that the Paris talks agree a deal which is not legally binding, or which falls short on the goal of limiting warming to no more than two degrees.

The second part, on UK carbon budgets, is also a restatement of current policy. The Climate Change Act is legally binding and says that carbon budgets must be agreed according to a fixed timetable and the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.

The coal phase out pledge is a new policy for Labour and the Conservatives. However, it reflects current government expectations that unabated coal use for energy would have in any case ceased by around 2030. Unabated coal would be off the electricity grid by 2027 under central projections from the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

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Seven charts showing how the EU's energy use is being transformed

  • 10 Feb 2015, 08:00
  • Simon Evans

Polish coal plant | Shutterstock

EU energy use has fallen again, according to the latest official data published. Energy use is now nearly 10 per cent below a 2006 peak and has returned to levels last seen a quarter century ago in the early 1990s.

The sources of the EU's energy have changed dramatically too, the data shows, with coal and oil use now below 1990 levels. Meanwhile, energy from renewables has surged, with output nearly tripling between 1990 and 2013.

EU energy use is in the midst of a massive transformation as the region works to tackle climate change while replacing ageing energy infrastructure and attempting to minimise costs. Here are seven charts that show what's going on.

Falling EU energy use

Energy use in the EU fell to 1,666 million tonnes of oil equivalent in 2013, according to the latest data from Eurostat, the European Commission's statistical body. This is about the same amount of energy as was used back in 1990, a quarter of a century ago. The fall reverses a long-rising trend in energy use, as the chart below shows.

EU energy use. Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014; chart by Carbon Brief

Back in 1990, the EU accounted for 21 per cent of global energy use. By 2013, that share had fallen to 13 per cent as EU energy flatlined while the rest of the world surged ahead. The EU's energy use has been eclipsed by China, whose share has climbed from eight per cent to 22 per cent over the same time period.

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Briefing: What is the EU's energy union?

  • 06 Feb 2015, 10:55
  • Simon Evans

EU flags | Shutterstock

  • Senior officials are meeting in Riga, Latvia to discuss the EU energy union.
  • The idea was launched last year by the European Council's Polish president, Donald Tusk, as a response to Russia's annexation of the Crimea.
  • The energy union appears to mean different things to different people.
  • Some want it to emphasise energy security, others energy efficiency or decarbonisation.
  • The European Commission will publish the official strategy on 25 February.

Senior officials from across the EU are gathering today in the Latvian capital Riga to discuss the creation of an EU energy union.

In April 2014, European Council president and former Polish prime minister  Donald Tusk launched the idea for an energy union in an  article for the Financial Times, primarily as a response to the Crimea crisis and Russian aggression over gas contracts.

Tusk's proposed energy union emphasised energy security above all. It called for region-wide purchasing of gas, linking and strengthening the EU's electricity transmission systems, and making "full use" of EU fossil fuel reserves including coal and shale gas.

Since then, the concept has evolved into a more holistic and rounded strategy, as set out by the European Commission in a widely leaked draft paper. A separate paper, more closely aligned to Tusk's vision, is expected from Latvia, which holds the EU's rotating six-month presidency and is hosting today's conference.

Until the commission publishes its energy union framework strategy on 25 February, member states and lobby groups will be battling to impose their preferred vision on the final outcome.

The Draft EU strategy

The leaked commission paper sets out an energy union of five interlinked topics, or 'dimensions'. Each dimension includes a series of 'actions', many of which relate to existing policy commitments. There are some new initiatives, however, and the overall tone of the paper shows how far the energy union has shifted since Tusk's April 2014 article.

Here's a quick rundown of the five dimensions.

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National carbon market on the horizon for China

  • 05 Feb 2015, 13:05
  • Mat Hope

Beijing smog | Shutterstock

China has been experimenting with provincial carbon-market schemes over the past four years. Government officials are now suitably convinced that a national market could begin in mid-2016,  Reuters reports.

But progress will likely be slow as China seeks to avoid the problems  currently hobbling the EU's scheme. Carbon Brief looks at how China's pilot schemes are progressing, and what the next steps are to creating the world's largest carbon market.

Current schemes

China has pledged to ensure its emissions peak in 2030 as part of  an historic deal with the US, signed in November last year. It will implement a range of regulations and schemes to make that happen, including a national carbon market.

In preparation, China's government established seven pilot programmes in 2011 to see if carbon markets could work in a Chinese context. The government plans to expand and link these markets to form large regional schemes, before converting those into a  national market in 2016.  

China has been relatively slow to jump on the carbon-market bandwagon. The EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS) - currently, the world's largest - was set up in 2005. There are now 46 carbon  markets operating worldwide.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.51.16.pngSource: Data from China Carbon. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Shale gas remains UK’s most divisive energy source, poll shows

  • 03 Feb 2015, 11:25
  • Mat Hope

The public remains divided on whether the UK should exploit its shale gas resources, new government polling shows.

The statistics come a week after Lancashire council  delayed a decision on whether to permit fracking at two sites, due to concerns over noise and traffic.

The shale gas circus has been in town for a couple of years now. In that time, protesters have taken to the streets and gone home again,  companies have fired up their drills and shut them down, and Scotland cautiously welcomed and then  banned the industry.

It seems such drama has split the public, with similar numbers of people opposing and supporting fracking. The data shows that, of all the UK's energy options, shale gas remains the most divisive.

Opinion split

The latest round of the Department of Energy and Climate Change's (Decc)  public attitude tracker survey shows 24 per cent of the public support extracting shale gas, while 23 per cent are opposed.

When Decc conducted the poll last September, 26 per cent supported shale gas extraction, with 27 per cent opposing it.

The results are slightly different to a  Sunday Times/YouGov poll conducted a few weeks later, but also released this week. That survey showed 35 per cent of people support fracking, with 41 per cent against it.

Sources:  Decc and  Sunday Times/YouGov. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Coal carbon capture could increase future climate risks, study finds

  • 03 Feb 2015, 07:00
  • Simon Evans

Coal-fired power stations should be replaced by low-carbon energy sources rather than retrofitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS), according to new research from the University of Oxford.

The study dents the idea that coal can be compatible with climate action as long as it uses CCS. It says finite CCS capacity should be held in reserve in case negative emissions technologies are needed to return dangerous greenhouse gas concentrations to a safe level after 2050.

The new report on Stranded Carbon Assets and Negative Emissions Technologies is published today by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

Stranded assets

The idea that companies could be sitting on fossil fuel assets they can't burn if the world tackles climate change has now hit the mainstream. One study found nearly 90 per cent of the world's coal reserves are unburnable if we're to avoid dangerous warming.

A counter-argument is that firms could carry on burning coal while capturing the emissions through CCS. Smith School analysis suggests this has the potential to capture 125 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in total by 2050, against today's annual coal emissions of around 12 gigatonnes.

So coal plants could have another 10 years of business-as-usual operation without eating into carbon budgets, if they used all available CCS capacity to capture their emissions.

Negative emissions technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere could extend the operating life of coal plants even further, again assuming only coal emissions are offset.

The Smith School report looks at what types of negative emissions technologies are available and how much breathing space they might inject into the carbon budget for two degrees.

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Nuclear power additions 'need to quadruple' to hit climate goals, IEA says

  • 31 Jan 2015, 14:50
  • Simon Evans

Nuclear power station | Shutterstock

The world needs to quadruple the rate it is adding nuclear power capacity to the grid by the 2020s if it is to meet climate targets, according to a new report from thinktank the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The  2015 technology roadmap for nuclear energy, published jointly with the Nuclear Energy Agency, suggests nuclear power capacity needs to more than double by 2050 as part of cost-effective efforts to limit warming to two degrees.

Carbon Brief takes you through the roadmap's findings and its recommendations for securing a nuclear contribution to avoiding dangerous climate change.

Contributing to climate goals

The IEA takes an all-of-the-above approach to cutting emissions. Its executive director Maria van der Hoeven says all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, will be required for the "energy revolution" we need to meet climate goals.

Nuclear-free scenarios that successfully combat climate change have been  developed by other organisations, but they would require extremely ambitious efforts across areas including energy efficiency, land-use change and diets that not all experts believe to be achievable.

So to what extent might emissions be reduced by ramping up nuclear power, according to the IEA? Under its two degrees scenario, it thinks nuclear power capacity will need to more than double by 2050, to 930 gigawatts. That's significantly less optimistic than the  IEA's 2010 nuclear roadmap, which put 2050 nuclear capacity at 1,200 gigawatts.

Most additional capacity will be in China (the lilac area in the chart below). Other growth areas include Russia, India and the UK, which has "one of the most ambitious newbuild programmes" in the OECD group of wealthier nations, according to the IEA. These plans include the high-profile Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, among others.

Credit:  IEA 2015 technology roadmap for nuclear energy

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New US poll shows gap between scientists, the public, and politicians on climate change

  • 30 Jan 2015, 12:30
  • Mat Hope

Crowd outside Congress | Shutterstock

The US Congress  set up a showdown with the Barack Obama yesterday over the approval of the  controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Most members of Congress argue it's necessary for the country's energy security. The president is concerned about the impact that extracting, transporting, and burning the oil could have on climate change.

New polling data shows the vast majority of the US's scientists and growing numbers of the public share the president's concern about how human activity may impact climate change. It suggests that the views of politicians are increasingly at odds with the country's climate scientists.

Causes of climate change

Growing numbers of US adults attribute climate change to human activities, new data from the  Pew Research Centre shows. But there's a big discrepancy between the public, politicians, and scientists' views on climate change.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 11.04.43.png
Sources: Public and scientists,  Pew Research Centre. Congress, the  Centre for American Progress. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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