EU policymakers have proposed that the 28-nation bloc cuts its greenhouse emissions 40 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels, overcoming pressure from some member states and other Commissioners for a weaker 35% target.
The 40% percent cut in greenhouse gases will be backed by a binding renewables EU-wide target of at least 27%, the European Commission said in a statement.
“In spite of all those arguing that nothing ambitious would come out of the Commission today, we did it. A 40% emissions reduction is the most cost-effective target for the EU and it takes account of our global responsibility,” said EU climate chief Connie Hedegaard in a statement.
The proposed 40% target means the EU is the first major negotiator at UN climate talks to present a number on how much it will cut emissions after 2020.
Providing clarity & curbing energy prices
The 2030 climate and energy framework also aims provide greater clarity to investors on electricity generation by the end of the next decade, and how to curb rising energy prices.
However some member states will likely try to amend or scrap some of the proposals during the lengthy negotiation process, particularly measures that could lead to increases in power prices.
“Increasing the binding target for energy from renewables to 27% does not take into account the electricity price impact of this policy. Raising the CO2 reduction target to 40% is at best premature,” said Konrad Szymanski, a Polish co-rapporteur for the European Parliament’s industry and energy committee.
40% carbon target still ‘highly inadequate’
But some green groups and least developed countries have said that the deeper 40% carbon target is still highly inadequate, given that the EU is likely to achieve around 35% in greenhouse gas reductions by the middle of the next decade.
With the 35% figure omitted from the final document, the main source of compromise appears to be in the renewables target.
The EC had earlier suggested last year that a renewable energy target would be 30% with targets imposed on a national level but will now strive for 27% using a ‘bottom-up’ approach.
A victory for EU countries
This appears to be a victory for EU countries such as the UK, which insisted they should have the freedom to use other forms of energy – such as nuclear and fossil fuels that use carbon capture and storage – to help cut carbon emissions.
However critics of an EU-wide renewables target said it was unenforceable in its current form and individual member states would face no sanction if they failed to pull their weight.
“The EU level renewables target is non-binding on Member States, and begs question how (these) can be met and what are consequences if not? ‘Legal’ is a relative term,” said Bryony Worthington, a member of the UK’s upper house of parliament and a campaigner for tough carbon targets.
In a press briefing, EC officials said that a requirement for 27% of energy to come from renewable sources would translate into 45% of electricity being generated from wind, solar and hydro and biomass.
Who does the heavy lifting?
But member states, particularly neighbouring countries, will have to agree on who does the heavy lifting in delivering an EU-wide target for the deployment of low-carbon electricity generation.
Interconnectors and modernised smart grids could help deliver electricity from parts of Europe where renewable energy is plentiful to those states that are overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels.
But such technology is expensive and EU countries will have to work out who picks up the tab.
Carbon buffer could add 13 euros to carbon price
The EC also proposed today to reform the EU emissions trading scheme, including a reserve from 2021 that would help to prevent crashes or spikes in prices.
A so-called EU carbon buffer could add 13 euros to the 2019-2030 carbon price, according to analysis by Reuters Point Carbon.
The EU’s executive said that a possible raising of energy efficiency in the EU would be examined more closely once a review of failed 2020 targets is concluded later in the year.
Member states to publish power plans
Over the next months member states are expected to publish detailed plans on how to use electricity and fuels less wastefully.
As expected, the EC agreed to drop earlier plans to bring in a slew of new laws to control Europe’s nascent shale gas industry.
But breaches of existing regulations on the resources industry could prompt additional regulations on fracking after an 18-month review.
“The communication balances the right of member states to exploit shale gas with need to draw up an EU-wide environmental rules. This is not new legislation. We are not meddling in member states’ policies on how they want to generate energy,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso told a press conference.
Pilot projects to be deployed by mid-2020s
On carbon capture and storage, the EC said member states with large shares of fossil fuel in their energy mix should take the lead in funding pilot projects so they can be deployed by the mid-2020s.
Even though policymakers in Brussels said that increased funding from EU carbon auctions could be on the table, adherents of the technology said today’s proposals didn’t go far enough to encourage a technology viewed as crucial if large emitters are to cut their emissions.
EU governments still need to agree
EU governments are likely to take 12-18 months to agree a final version of the 2030 climate and energy proposals that can be adopted as law.
Final approval by the EU institutions could take up to 2 years, meaning that the framework might not take legal effect until 2017.
Agreement on a GHG cut among member states will be needed by the spring of next year when countries have to submit future carbon reduction plans to the UN ahead of the Paris climate summit late in 2015.
By John McGarrity