Common European effort offers best hope for low-carbon future

The EU must balance technological change and a new energy mix if decarbonisation is to become a reality, argues Seb Dance.

By Seb Dance

Former Labour MEP for London, Seb Dance was a Vice-Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and Deputy Leader of the UK Labour MEP Delegation

02 Jun 2015

For me, one of the most important aspects of the European Union is the structure it provides allowing member states to work together on moving towards a more sustainable and low-carbon future.

The economies of scale that cooperation at economic, development and regulatory levels bring mean that it is easier to arrive at policy decisions that protect both people's health and the environment.

Nowhere has this been more obvious than in the field of air quality. Last year almost half a million people across the EU - well over 400,000 - died prematurely as a result of poor air quality. I represent London, the EU's largest city, where the problem is especially bad. 


Combining action on this, as well as on climate, brings greater cost efficiency and efficacy.

This is one of the reasons why, since the start of this mandate, parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee has been working hard to ensure that files on air quality and on fuel and energy contain comprehensive provisions and targets to encourage countries to develop low-carbon solutions.

April's plenary vote on a package aimed at phasing out first generation biofuels in favour of advanced biofuels based on waste material and energy crops demonstrates the strength of will behind this drive. 

Although the end result can in no way be described as ideal it was a clear signal from the parliament that the EU must do more to diversify its energy mix and reduce carbon to the lowest possible levels.

Moving away from fossil fuels and to a low-carbon economy cannot be done in just one simple measure; it will clearly take more than a preference for advanced biofuels or simultaneous action on air quality. In addition to the piecemeal steps we are taking, we now need to create and develop innovative infrastructures that cater for different consumer demands in different member states. 

We need a smarter, linked energy grid and a system that ensures all consumer and industrial products conform to the highest energy efficiency standards, while at the same time keeping costs as low as possible for consumers and businesses.

It would be unthinkable for any member state, difficult as it is going to be for 28, to undertake such a wholesale economic revolution on its own. A collective effort is our best hope of achieving the technological change we need in order to limit our impact on the planet's climate and ecosystems.

The simplest demonstration of the need for cooperation and coordination across Europe is shown by the current situation we face with regards to renewable energy.

The differing geography across the EU means that there cannot be one source that is suitable for all. Where solar power may be an obvious option in some regions, wave or wind may be more applicable in others.

The challenge for the EU is to incorporate these differences and allow flexibility for member states to apply a different energy mix but at the same time ensure cooperation and development of technology across the EU. 

At the same time it must ensure the collective mix can achieve the decarbonisation we desperately need. It is a big challenge, but one I believe we are equal to.