Council must now 'fix' commission's energy efficiency policy

The European parliament's stance on energy efficiency marks the victory of logic and rational thinking over unclear political interests and legacy, writes Bertrand Cazes.

By Bertrand Cazes

12 Feb 2014

The European commission has repeatedly explained that energy efficiency is essential to achieve Europe's decarbonisation objectives and to strengthen the competitiveness of EU-based industries by helping to mitigate the impacts of rising energy prices.

In fact, the commission communication on a 2030 energy and climate framework and on energy costs, precisely reiterate that despite no energy efficiency target being proposed.

I believe that the parliament spotted this incoherence and followed a very rational approach. If energy efficiency is central to all these EU objectives, then it deserves a binding target to set levels of ambitions, to mobilise market actors and to ensure that Europe delivers on all its goals.

In its call for a binding energy efficiency target, the European parliament also draws two very logical conclusions of the 2020 framework.

First, a target that is only voluntary fails to motivate stakeholders and member states to drive change, hence the need for a binding objective.

Second, targets need to be based on solid grounds to reconcile policy ambitions with what the economy can realistically deliver. The call for a target based on an assessment of the cost-effective energy savings potential of each sector of the economy responds precisely to this need.

Why the European commission is unable to follow the same logic remains mysterious. With the end of term approaching for the commissioners, one of the reasons may be an unwillingness to call into question its past policies, which would implicitly recognise that not enough was done so far on energy efficiency.

Or is it simply that the commission's sole concern is to rescue its emission trading scheme (ETS) based climate policy and to make it a legacy? Against all evidence that energy efficiency, particularly on the non-ETS sectors such as buildings and transport, could usefully complement the EU ETS and deliver much more in greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Is it a fear that the backlash experienced on the renewable energy policy may happen if a more ambitious energy efficiency policy is pursued?

The parliament's stance with its vote in favour of a binding energy efficiency target is not only rationale but it is politically timely.

It puts co-legislators back on the driving seat and it sends a strong signal to the council. Member states also must be receptive to this signal.

[pullquote]The council now has an immense responsibility. That of fixing the broken proposal from the commission by establishing energy efficiency as the core pillar of a new climate and energy framework[/pullquote].

If member states' preoccupations are that of competitiveness, jobs and industrial renaissance in addition to climate policy, then logic calls for putting energy efficiency first.

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