Jobs, opportunities and costs key to EU's sustainable energy strategy
EU member states must accept the magnitude of the energy challenge we face and deliver ambitious renewables targets, argues Benedek Jávor.
The important role of sustainable energy resources such as renewables is not widely acknowledged in current EU policy discussions, as demonstrated by the European energy security strategy.
However, evidence shows that it contributes to reducing our energy dependence while increasing our energy security, as renewables are produced locally, meaning fewer fossil fuel imports. This is clearly linked to efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.
By developing renewable energy, member states would generate jobs and more opportunities for local economies while energy-intensive industries would benefit from lower costs, boosting the competitiveness of the economy as a whole.
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It is worth having a closer look at some steps taken by energy autonomous municipalities and regions and their current practices. For example, the Austrian town of Güssing has been fostering local renewable resources for the past 20 years, and has cut its CO2 emissions by 90 per cent.
Beyond the many benefits of renewables, studies now underline the fact that they are catching up competitively with conventional energy resources. Soon, renewable technologies will be cost-competitive and profitable, doing so within the payback period of current investments in the energy field.
This should be taken into account when deciding on energy policy both at EU and national levels, while infrastructure projects should only be implemented if they clearly serve long-term competitiveness and sustainability. Local acceptance of a project should also be a prerequisite.
Europe's ageing energy infrastructure would provide an opportunity for investments that serve a truly sustainable energy transition, particularly in the field of renewables. These developments could provide secure, sustainable, competitive and affordable energy for Europe – and this is exactly what the energy union package aims to do.
However, some member states' recent policy decisions seem to counteract these efforts, not only affecting their energy mixes, but also undermining common climate change mitigation and energy security efforts, making the entire region more vulnerable.
These decisions also further widen the gap between member states' economies as regards their competitiveness. For example, the Hungarian government is pushing to build two new reactors in its existing Paks nuclear power plant – requiring an investment equal to 12 to 13 per cent of the country's GDP and locking in its energy policy, without any room for substantial shifts for at least the next 60 years.
In order to reverse negative trends, mainstream good practices and achieve long-term sustainability, Europe urgently needs ambitious renewables targets. European policymakers must commit to a much higher level of ambition than that inherent in the recent council conclusions and their watered down targets.
We need to reach a strong, comprehensive and binding global climate deal at December's UN summit in Paris. I hope the council will make of the so-called flexibility clause and review the renewables targets so that they match the magnitude of the challenge we are facing.
As for the energy union package, its decarbonisation, demand moderation and sustainability elements should be considered the guiding principles for all decisions. To encourage further use of renewables, we need a stable regulatory framework, phasing out harmful subsidies for conventional sources of energy, drivers and support for the decentralisation of energy systems, local solutions and meaningful cooperation.
This is what parliament will keep pushing for.
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