EU Sustainable Energy Week: A chance to revive the Paris positivity

The post-COP21 optimism has given way to hard work on the part of policymakers, with much more to come, writes Seán Kelly.

By Seán Kelly

Seán Kelly (IE, EPP) is the leader of the Fine Gael delegation in the European Parliament

13 Jun 2016

In December last year, I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to represent the European Parliament at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris. We knew in advance that the Paris conference would be an historic one, and towards the end of the week the ground-breaking agreement was struck. 

We were to peak global emissions as soon as possible, reach net-zero emissions in the second half of this century, and put the world on track to keep global temperature increases below 20 degrees Celsius and seek to keep it below even 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

The enthusiasm in Paris was infectious; the goal was set; there was a magnificent shared eagerness among the policymakers to get back to work and put the foundations in place to meet this global challenge.


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Fast-forward six months and, perhaps as is to be expected, the post-COP21 enthusiasm has been pushed slightly aside as an increasing amount of policy fi les make their way through Parliament's industry, research and energy (ITRE) committee.

Since the beginning of the year, our time has been fully occupied with important energy-related fi les such as the renewable energy progress report, a new deal for energy consumers, and the EU-ETS review, to name just a few. I quickly realised that all of the positive interviews, articles and speeches that followed COP21 now had to be replaced by hard work in Parliament. 

All of the idealistic statements following the agreement had to be replaced with work on concrete solutions. COP21 needed be followed by implementation and our work in the ITRE committee was a great place to start.

It is for this reason that I greatly look forward to this year's EU Sustainable Energy Week. While our run-of-the-mill parliamentary work is of course vital, it is nice to step back from the day to day work and revive some of that Paris enthusiasm for climate action.

In my experience, the Sustainable Energy Week is pretty good at doing this. This year I'll be moderating a high-level discussion on making the EU the world number one in renewable heating and cooling - an oft overlooked issue in European energy policy. 

Renewable heating and cooling technologies are already available and ready to deliver - we just need to put the right market conditions in place; the Commission's heating and cooling strategy will hopefully help in this regard. I look forward to this event and others on the week of the 13-17 June as this is a huge opportunity to really think about and discuss the future of our energy system.

The future lies in renewable energy. Natural gas will play an important part as a transition fuel in the medium term, but our key goal must be to move towards a sustainable energy system that is based on renewable energy by the end of this century.

Technological innovation is a crucial element of this and I have called numerous times in Parliament for increased efforts to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy technologies.

Putting additional resources into renewable energy research, development and demonstration activities will be required if we are to meet our climate goals and, of course, realise European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's ambition of making the EU the world leader in renewable energy.

Research efforts should be strengthened in terms of further developing renewable energy technologies, but we must also seek to increase the flexibility of energy systems. 

Much innovation is still needed in demand-side integration, energy storage and smart-grid infrastructure, and I hope that with programmes such as Horizon 2020, along with instruments such as the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), this will soon come to fruition.

From a policy perspective, it is important that we put in place the regulatory framework that allows this to happen. This is why work on the new electricity market design is a crucial element of achieving the climate and energy goals in Europe. 

I think we need to ensure that the new market design sends the right signals for investment in clean energy technologies and the enabling technologies that will allow us to deploy more renewables stably onto the grid.

The energy sector is responsible for around two-thirds of global emissions. It represents a massive opportunity to decarbonise the economy.

Government funding is important but insufficient - the key will be unlocking private sector investment and I believe that COP21 has sent the first big signal that climate investments are solid investments.

Sustainable Energy Week can do one important thing that COP21 achieved with much publicity in December - it gets us talking about sustainability, it gets us talking about climate action, it gets us talking about renewable energy. I encourage everyone to get involved and attend at least one event between 13 and 17 June - you'll be spoiled for choice and I'm certain it will be useful. 

Six months on from Paris, it is high time we got some of the enthusiasm back and I hope to see it at Sustainable Energy Week. Climate change is the key challenge of this century and failure to implement the Paris agreement will result in major adverse impacts. In renewable energy, we have a way to eliminate a huge proportion of our emissions - we cannot allow the opportunity to slide.

As I begin preparations ahead of COP22 in Marrakesh this November, I hope to be able to tell fellow delegates that Europe is leading the way in climate action.

 

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