The commission's 2030 framework for climate and energy policies may, in the long run, be seen as a 'chance missed'

To have binding EU targets, Europe must have a coherent and long term strategy, argues Ed Gavaghan.

By Ed Gavaghan

04 Feb 2014

Following the recent publication of the European commission's 2030 framework for climate and energy policies 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 emissions by 40 per cent, below 1990 levels across the EU as a whole, with a target of 27 per cent of EU energy generated via renewable means by 2030, again, across the EU. These build on the 2020 targets of 20 per cent emissions and 20 per cent renewable energy generation which the EU is currently on course to meet.

"The emissions target will never be achieved without drastic changes across the infrastructure sectors, like iron, steel, chemicals, and a huge leap forward in innovative technology"

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 per cent, while the UK had a total proportion of less than 10 per cent.

Cycle forward to the present day and the UK is on course to produce 15 per cent of its energy requirements via renewable sources by 2020, missing the EU target by five per cent but with the EU as a whole meeting the 20 per cent 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 is turning its back on nuclear energy post Fukishima even though it does not lie on a tectonic plate. The country 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 per cent 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, both wind and hydro power, produce 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 per cent 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 will be diverted towards nuclear and shale gas. Therefore, 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 sectors, like iron, steel, chemicals, 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 commission 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.