Climate policy

How the EU's evolving Energy Union reveals underlying politics

  • 25 Feb 2015, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

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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MEPs vote for early EU carbon market fix

  • 24 Feb 2015, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

An early and ambitious fix to the European Union's emissions trading scheme (ETS) has been backed by the European Parliament's environment committee in a vote today.

The ETS is central to the EU's efforts to tackle climate change, but has been suffering from  chronically low prices that are insufficient to drive low-carbon investments.

To fix the market, the European Commission had proposed reforms starting in 2021, designed to reduce a surplus of two billion carbon credits on the market which have caused low prices.

Today's parliamentary vote backs earlier implementation of the reforms, starting in 2018, and contains additional measures to tackle surplus allowances.

Analysts say the reforms could see EU carbon prices more than double by 2020, to between €17 and €35 per tonne. Member states must still back any reforms to the ETS, however.

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Labour leader Ed Miliband's plan for the Paris climate deal

  • 23 Feb 2015, 15:20
  • Simon Evans

Prospective UK prime minister Ed Miliband has set out his vision for a global climate deal, in an article for the Observer newspaper.

The Labour leader's article says tackling climate change would be one of his highest priorities as prime minister, calling it an "economic necessity" and the "single most important thing we can do for our children and our grandchildren". He says last year's winter floods showed climate change is a security threat to the UK, as well as globally.

Carbon Brief summarises reactions to the piece and looks more closely at Miliband's vision for the Paris climate deal, due to be agreed at the end of this year.

Political reactions

The piece has attracted wide press coverage in the UK because of Miliband's decision to appoint former deputy prime minister John Prescott as a senior climate adviser.

Lord Prescott has a long track record in the international climate arena, as does Miliband, who was energy and climate change secretary when the UK Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. Prescott was the lead EU climate negotiator when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997.

Miliband says of Prescott: "There is no one better than John at bashing heads together to get a deal." In a column in the Sunday Mirror, Prescott says any head-bashing will be of the intellectual variety and says his brief is to "raise ambition on this crucial issue".

The Guardian says the appointment will give Prescott a "frontline general election role", with the BBC taking the same line. The Daily Mail says the move "will be seen as an attempt to turn the clock back to when Labour used to win elections".

In an article for the Express, Leo McKinstry calls Prescott a "charmless old bruiser" and says Prescott's "two Jags" nickname means he has "zero credibility in peddling the green agenda". The Telegraph calls Prescott "the bulldog who saved Labour", but says the appointment may irk Labour's shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint.

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