January 26, 2014

Is the EU About to Abdicate Climate Leadership?

European Commissioners clashed on Friday over what the European Union's climate and energy policy goals for 2030 should be, with time for agreement running short ahead of their planned publication this month, EU sources said.

The European Union has sought to lead the global fight against climate change, but the economic crisis has sapped the appetite of business and some member states for decisive action because of concerns over competitiveness and cost.

Any policy announcement on targets to succeed the 2020 EU goals on cutting emissions, improving energy efficiency and increasing renewable energy use, will require around two years of EU debate to become law.

But it will send a signal ahead of next year's UN talks on a successor to the Kyoto pact on tackling climate change.

EU sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 2030 carbon-cutting targets of 35 per cent and 40 per cent were under debate, together with a renewables goal of 24-27 per cent.

"The Commissioners' breakfast was inconclusive," one EU source said. "The fight will be to get the 40 per cent."

"Depending on the decision on the greenhouse gas figure, the proposal for only an indicative target on renewables will be set at either 24 per cent or 27 per cent," another source said.

Last year, EU sources said a 40 per cent carbon-cutting goal and a 30 per cent renewables level were under consideration.

Loss of moral courage

The levels now under debate are still a rise from 2020 goals of a 20 per cent carbon cut and a target to get 20 per cent of energy from green sources, such as wind and solar.

But environmentalists say they amount to business as usual.

Official EU figures for 2012, the latest available, put the renewables level at 14.4 per cent and a 20 per cent carbon cut for 2020 versus 1990 has almost been met already.

"The Commission has lost its moral courage," Brook Riley, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said.
He added that the Commission was capping renewable energy and efficiency and reneging on a pledge to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the level scientists say prevents the worst consequences of extreme weather.

The divisions in the Commission reflect deep differences of opinion among the 28 EU member states.
Nations such as Britain want only a carbon goal, a view echoed by some in business and utilities such as E.ON.

Dominant EU state Germany, however, wants a renewables target to help achieve its "Energiewende", or shift from nuclear to green power, and Denmark wants a repeat of the 2020 three-goal formula, also including an energy savings requirement.

A committee in the European Parliament on Thursday backed three new targets for 2030, but the vote was not binding.

Those opposing triple targets say it is too soon to agree a new efficiency goal after difficult debate in 2012 on a law to enforce energy saving through measures, such as insulation. They also argue the renewables target has resulted in expensive subsidies that have raised energy costs for consumers.

Increased energy efficiency could also be a problem for the struggling EU carbon market, which at less than five euros per tonne is doing nothing to halt a rise in the burning of cheap coal, the most carbon-intensive source of power.

Energy savings would reduce demand for carbon allowances when the market is already oversupplied because of a collapse in demand caused by economic recession.

This week, EU officials backed a plan to remove surplus allowances from the market, which the Commission, the EU executive, has said could hopefully lead to a final decision by March, ending years of uncertainty.

The 2030 policy announcement this month is expected to include a legislative proposal on a supply adjustment mechanism, which would automatically remove surplus carbon permits in the event of a collapse in demand. Equally, permits could be added in the event of a boom.

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