Thursday, January 11, 2007

European Union proposes a "low-carbon" industrial revolution

The European Union's executive branch has proposed that the 27-nation bloc reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, with the possibility of going to 30 percent if other developed countries join in. It is an ambitious (and some say flawed) plan to simultaneously address the twin needs of meeting increased demand for electricity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As you might expect, some critics claim the proposal would hurt the EU economy. Some say that the 20% goal is not ambitious enough. Still others wonder why nuclear energy is excluded from consideration. The devil obviously still resides in the details -- even green ones. However, the bottom line is that Europe is giving climate change the serious attention it deserves engaging the public in meaningful debate and proposing thoughtful actions to address the problem. This is in stark contrast to the U.S. government's denial-driven inertia on the issue.

The following breakdown of and initial reaction to the proposal is provided by EurActiv. (GW)

EU energy blueprint puts onus on climate change and renewables

January 11, 2007

The Commission invites EU members to move forward 'unilaterally' with a 20% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 in a bid to reduce its dependency on imported fuels and trigger a new 'industrial revolution'.


The Commission opened a wide-ranging debate on a future European energy policy with the publication of a Green Paper in March 2006. The paper was published upon EU leaders' suggestion at the Hampton Court summit during the UK Presidency in autumn 2005.

The move was prompted by mounting concerns regarding high oil and gas prices and worries about Europe's increasing dependency on a few external suppliers, as well as the global-warming crisis.


The Commission unveiled eagerly awaited energy proposals on 10 January 2007 in a move, which, it hopes, will "set the pace for a new global industrial revolution" and increase EU resilience to future oil-price shocks.

"If we take the right decisions now, Europe can lead the world to a new industrial revolution: the development of a low-carbon economy," said Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

Central to the proposals is a binding target to slash the EU's greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the objective should be pursued "unilaterally … even if there is no international agreement on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions" after 2012 when the Kyoto targets expire.

At the international level, the Commission proposes that member states endorse an EU objective of 30% reduction in greenhouse gases by developing nations by 2020.

To achieve these objectives, Brussels proposes:

  • Completing the internal market for electricity and gas (EurActiv 9/01/07);
  • a 20% target for renewables in the EU's overall energy mix by 2020 (current target is 10% for 2010);
  • An obligation for each member state to have 10% biofuels in their transport fuel mix by 2020;
  • Saving 20% of total primary energy consumption by 2020, an objective already expressed last year in an energy efficiency action plan. New initiatives here include proposals for an international agreement on energy-efficiency standards in appliance-producing countries;
  • Aiming towards "a low CO2 fossil fuel future" with support for 'clean coal' technology , using carbon capture and storage deep underground. "Coal and gas account for over 50% of the EU's electricity supply and will remain an important part of our energy mix," the Commission said;
  • Developing a common external energy policy to "actively pursue Europe's interests" on the international scene with major supplier, consumer and transit countries, including Russia;
  • Developing a European Strategic Energy Technology Plan to focus R&D efforts on low carbon technologies, and;
  • On nuclear, the Commission chose to take an "agnostic" stance, leaving it up to member states to decide.

However, member states would be given the flexibility to decide how best to achieve the overall target on renewables, in order to take account of specific national circumstances. And a specific objective for electricity produced form renewables, which an EU directive currently sets at 21% by 2010, has been dropped in the Commission plans.

But at the same time, Brussels proposes that EU members be required to establish National Action Plans outlining specific objectives and sectoral targets for each of the renewable energy sectors - electricity, biofuels, heating and cooling.

Progress would be monitored by the Commission in a series of biannual reports.


The proposed new greenhouse-gas reduction targets were described by Commission President José Manuel Barroso as both "ambitious and credible".

"Acting now brings advantages: higher productivity from increased energy efficiency; new markets; new jobs," Barroso said at a press conference on 10 January.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas added: "A unilateral target will help improve the prospects for a future international agreement" while ensuring "the continued good functioning" of the EU's CO2 trading scheme with a long-term perspective on carbon prices.

But the proposal was criticised by UNICE, the European employers association, which said that unilateral action "could jeopardise the future of business within the EU".

"Business needs predictability but far-reaching unilateral EU targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases are unacceptable," UNICE said.

UNICE also warned against "a short-sighted approach consisting in increasing in a disproportionate way the level of renewable energy in the EU overall energy mix".

"If the contribution of nuclear energy does not increase in the EU in the future or, even worse, if it shrinks, the increased demand for renewable energies will be such that their price will skyrocket, making the envisaged EU energy strategy virtually impossible to sustain," UNICE warned.

The Greens in Parliament were also critical of the Commission's greenhouse-gas reduction targets, although for different reasons. They said that the 20% target "would scupper the objective of limiting [global] temperature increases" to two degrees Celsius, "in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence" for more drastic cuts.

In addition, "the strategy hardly mentions the transport sector, which accounts for the lion's share of oil use", said Green MEP Claude Turmes.

For the Socialists, Labour MEP Eluned Morgan (UK, PES) was of the same opinion. She said that a Commission proposal of a 20% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 was "simply not enough". In December, the European Parliament endorsed a report that she drafted, calling for a binding commitment to a 25% cut by 2020.

Conservatives were fully supportive of the Commission proposals, saying they support "almost every element" of it. However, industry spokesman Giles Chichester MEP regretted that the nuclear issue was evaded. "The glaring omission is the inadequate promotion of the role of nuclear energy in achieving these objectives."

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) said that it fully supported the overall binding target of 20% for renewable energies. But it expressed fears that the member states will reject it.

"If the Council rejects the Commission's strong appeal, the energy strategy provides no fall-back and little would have been achieved," said EWEA's CEO Christian Kjaer.

"We risk ending up with a European renewable house on a foundation of sand," he said.

Latest & next steps:

  • 22 January 2007: Foreign affairs ministers Council meeting to hold first discussion on Commission energy package, followed by debates in different Council formations:
    • 15 Feb. 2007: Energy
    • 19 Feb. 2007: Competitiveness
    • 20 Feb. 2007: Environment
  • Between now and March: European Parliament to hold debate and vote on the Commission's proposals.
  • 5-6 March 2007: Foreign affairs ministers Council to wrap-up the debate and agree on an action plan.
  • 8-9 March 2007: EU summit to adopt action plan to launch a Common European Energy Policy.


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