This week the European Commission unveiled its proposed package of energy and climate policies up to 2030, with the aim of ensuring a secure, cost-effective energy supply and continued transition to a low-carbon economy. Setting the trajectory of travel for EU climate policy up to 2030, the proposals seek to build on the existing climate and energy package, which runs up to 2020. Policies in place up to 2020 include a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 1990 levels, a target of 20% of energy from renewable sources in 2020 and to be 20% more energy efficient by 2020. Overall, the EU has committed to emission reductions of 80-95% compared to 1990 levels by 2050.

The new proposals to 2030 released last week cover a broad range of policy themes, ranging from fracking regulation to revisions to the EU’s emission trading system to help address issues of a permit allowance surplus and a low carbon price. Among these wide measures set out in the proposals, two core policies particularly captured headlines: the introduction of a 2030 emissions reduction target and a European-wide renewables target.

The European Commission first proposed an EU-wide target to cut emissions by 40% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels), to be met through domestic cuts by member states. For the UK this would probably translate into a 50% target under usual burden-share arrangements, consistent with the ambitions of the fourth carbon budget.

Second, they set out an energy generation target from renewables of at least 27% by 2030; a further 7 percentage points compared to the 2020 commitments. Introduced to help meet emission reduction commitments and to encourage investment in renewables by offering some investor certainty, the proposal does not translate the European-wide binding renewables target into binding national targets. Instead, it adopts a flexible approach where member states “Can transfer the energy system in a way that is adapted to national preferences and circumstances” and in the most cost-effective way for individual countries.

The newly unveiled proposals do not include an energy efficiency target; instead deferring a decision on this to later in the year, whilst the European Commission completes a progress review on its 2020 energy efficiency targets in 2014.

The proposals received a mixed response, with some noting the targets were “a step in the right direction”, with the UK Government welcoming the flexibility offered for countries to choose their own cost-effective paths to meeting the 2030 renewables target. Some pointed to potential opportunities for the European Commission to increase its emission reduction ambition moving forward, to 50%, should other countries offer substantive commitments of their own as part of the global deal set to be agreed in 2015. Indeed, the European Commission commented that it “…sees no merit in proposing, in addition, a higher conditional target ahead of the international negotiations. It would rather assess the possibility of increasing the proposed target in light of other countries’ contributions”. Whilst the proposals did offer some signal that Europe remains committed to emission reduction and investment in renewables beyond the 2020s, for many NGO’s, the proposals were still well off the mark in terms of required commitment and seen as the minimum ambition the EU should adopt as it gears up for an active year of negotiations on global climate action.

Lord Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute at LSE, noted the proposed target should be seen as the minimum level of ambition for the European Commission’s March summit to agree on, and in particular highlighted the need to give a clear policy signal for the pace of decarbonisation needed across the EU to unlock substantial investment for the low-carbon transition. Jeffrey Sachs, offering a perspective from across the pond, suggested the EU continues to lead the way towards a low carbon future, commenting that the targets were “no retreat at all” on clean energy, but also noting “the new goals are sound but will require considerable diligence to implement”.

Given the severe risks posed by climate change, developing countries have called for strong climate policy leadership to increase ambition and practical implementation of emission reduction targets. EU analysis cited in Carbon Brief’s report shows if countries continue to deliver their energy and climate policies, emission cuts of around 32% could be feasible; illustrating that the newly proposed 40% target does not represent a rapid ramping up of commitment. Others raised concerns that the new targets sent an insufficiently clear signal to other key players in the world economy of the need for rapid global decarbonisation.

So where next? The newly proposed 2030 framework goes to the European Council and the European Parliament at its spring meeting in March for further consideration, where parties may also consider whether to include the 40% emission reduction target as the basis of an offer for the 2015 global climate deal negotiations. The EU will also publish an Energy Efficiency Directive in June this year, as it reviews its progress on energy efficiency.
This article was written by Naomi Hicks, Public Communications Manager at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

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