Bursting the Bubble

EU 2030 Objectives: emissions vs. renewables

30 January 2014 | by

Following the recent publication of the 2030 framework for climate and energy policies by the European Commission (EC), I was struck by the political struggle over what, to many people, would seem like a trivial choice of phrase: emissions or renewables. Behind the serene diplomatic curtain of these negotiations the key battleground has been whether to introduce a strong renewable energy objective for member states, or to concentrate on an emission reduction target. The two appear similar in phrase, but are vastly different in practice.

The framework sets out the objective to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 40%, below 1990 levels across the EU as a whole, with a target of 27% of EU energy generated via renewable means by 2030, again, across the EU. These are building on the 2020 targets of 20% emissions and 20% renewable energy generation which the EU is currently on course to meet. This framework is being put to the Council of Europe and European Parliament for ratification before the close of 2014, in preparation for the 2015 Paris Summit in which global climate change and energy measures will be discussed at an international level.

The key point of issue for this framework is the lack of binding targets per-nation. Both are binding at the EU level, which brings us back to my argument of renewables versus emissions. In 2010, Austria was the leading producer of renewable energy power as a proportion of its energy demand, upwards of 60% , while the United Kingdom had a total proportion of less than 10%. Cycle forward to present day and the UK is on course to produce 15% of its energy requirements via renewable sources by 2020, missing the EU target by 5%, but with the EU as a whole meeting the 20% threshold, no sanctions or redress needs to be made.

EU targets to combat climate change, and lead the charge for an internationally binding deal must be applauded, but with such a divergent spectrum within their own house, reaching these targets in the future is going to become progressively harder. To have binding EU targets, you must have a coherent and long term strategy which is broadly based along similar lines across different member states. What we currently have is a kaleidoscope of various strategies, led by national interests, in a sector which is reliant on international stability and cooperation. The 2030 framework fails in this regard.

Germany, turning its back on nuclear energy post Fukishima, even though it does not lie on a tectonic plate, has reverted to renewable sources and fossil fuels, importing vast amounts of coal cheaply from the US as worldwide prices have collapsed, increasing Germany’s already large emissions base. The UK has committed to a nuclear future, building new 21st century plants, as well as winning the argument on shale gas, where a key victory in the framework was that no additional regulation was announced at the EU level regarding this energy source. France relies on over 20 aging nuclear power plants for over 75% of its energy demand, committing itself to a new generation is a formality but an expansive one. Spain and Portugal have both published results which show renewable energy sources (wind and hydro power) produced a greater percentage of their energy requirement than fossil fuel based sources for the first time ever, indicating renewables can maintain the capacity market even as energy demand increases.

Many will argue that each nation demands a unique energy strategy to best suit their environment and individual infrastructure demands, and I’d be hard pressed to argue against that, but by failing to strictly lay out the requirement for a nation to actually produce 27% of its energy needs via renewable sources means investment can be diverted. Finance that would go into the development of hydro technology in the North Sea (in the UK) will be diverted towards nuclear and shale gas. The 2030 framework in essence, will not actually encourage further investment in renewables, for example, the UK will simply carry on under-producing renewable energy and trade off with Spain’s quota so as to reach the EU binding target. The emissions target will never be achieved without drastic changes across the infrastructure (iron, steel, chemical) sectors and a huge leap forward in innovative technology.

I previously wrote an article on Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) technology, arguing it was a necessity to meet future emission targets, another fine example of divergent energy strategies as the UK has the only commercially viable testing programme, even with the EU CCS Directive of 2009 which aimed for 15 operational plants by 2015. Over the past month, the European Parliament has voted in support of CCS as a low carbon technology with the EC formally launching a report into how to develop this technology across the EU. Nationally binding objectives for both renewables and emissions may have been a costly answer, but this would have streamlined the EU energy strategy. Finance would have been pooled, industry forced to react as one and not differently due to dependence on the investment priorities of the individual country, and European energy grids would have been prioritised for the transferring of energy across the EU to cater for peak demand. I won’t say the 2030 framework is a failure, each target met is a step in the right direction, but my argument is that we must all step in the same direction – via energy generation, innovative technology and energy efficiency plans. In my eyes it was a chance missed, and the 2040 targets seem an awfully long way off.

2 Comments

  1. “EU targets to combat climate change, and lead the charge for an internationally binding deal must be applauded” – au contraire! The way I see it, the EU is more and more giving up its efforts to push things forward. Warsaw was a farce after all, Germany is currently leaving its drivers seat because costs are rising to unacceptable levels, member states notice that strong industries did better in the crisis than service-oriented countries. The ETS has been a nightmare so far, and the USA together with other emerging economies have watered down the integration of air traffic into emission trading. In the end, the cleavage is industry / competitiveness vs climate. And because the former seems to be in the lead, targets become less and less ambitious.

  2. A forward motion with good intent should always be applauded. The author is, with great reason, highly critical of the reachability. However if the EU really wants to achieve these goals they have to adopt a more realistic stance for approaching the problem. It may be a ‘hard pill to swallow’ but if they want the EU to become more ‘green’ then there has to be requirements for each nation state. While there are always countries going off the more ‘american’/corporatist approach (German definitely sticks in mind here) there is a big push from the European public that governments work to address ‘green’ issues. If the EU can find a way to rally the people to the support of implementing ‘green’ policies that will actually work – then the corporatist industry swayed countries will still have to concede to the will of the people who elected them. Using an example I know quite well – Danmark (both the government and the people) have prided themselves on being ‘green’. Instead of counting on the rest of the EU to wash out their failure to meet ‘targets’ since they are EU wide, Danmark has raised itself to higher standards, showing that if you worked at it – these goals can be done. Danmark has gotten a lot of attention this fall for its ‘green’ abilities and %s. One of the government’s approaches to doing this was to get the people themselves behind the green growth. From bikes which light lightbulbs when you pedal fast enough being literally all over the capital, to the governments really reaching out to local groups to educate people on the need of this. Relying on corporatist sentiments to get this done will create so many fractures in approach and so many corners cut that the people will likely be pushed away.
    Maybe it is stuck in my culture, but in order to get something done it always is best to have the collective behind it – which is not done through industry but through goals set. When run by the government the systems, infrastructure and approach becomes streamlined. Germany seems to prefer to split it up with industry leaders. Fine in theoretical principle so as to reduce the cost of the state, but in application it seems that the German energy industry is highly fractured, with insufficient infrastructure (without wide support for fixing it) in many places, and the inability to utilize all the green energy projects that the EU has given them money to set up. If the EU sets a general, but enforceable guideline, which has specific targets for the memberstate, all the elements of that member state (corporations or service sector) will have to combine forces to streamline processes. That is the realistic way for all of Europe to become more ‘green’ conscious.

What do you think?