Nail-biting vote sees key committee back tougher targets for energy efficiency improvements across the bloc
The debate over the EU's upcoming energy and climate package intensified yesterday as a key committee of MEPs voted to significantly strengthen the energy efficiency and renewables targets proposed by the European Commission.
The Industry and Energy Committee voted narrowly in favour of proposals for a binding target to reduce energy consumption across the bloc 40 per cent by 2030 with each member state required to set its own national target in support of the overall goal.
The new target would represent a sizeable ratcheting up of ambition compared to the Commission's initial proposal of a 30 per cent reduction in energy use.
It was backed by the committee in a 33 to 32 vote that followed an at times ill-tempered debate which saw a bloc of MEPs from centre-right and right wing parties push hard for a weaker, non-binding target.
In a separate vote, MEPs on the Committee also backed proposals for a new target for 35 per cent of energy to come from renewables by 2030, including a goal for at least 12 per cent of energy used by the transport sector in each member state to come from renewables.
The new target similarly represents a significant strengthening on the Commission's proposal for a 27 per cent renewables target for 2030. It also goes beyond suggestions last week from Maroš Šefčovič, the EU's Vice President in charge of the Energy Union, who said a 30 per cent target could now be considered by the Commission in response to "impressive" falls in the cost of renewables.
However, green critics said the new 35 per cent target was still not ambitious enough and accused MEPs of again failing to ensure that national renewables targets are introduced to deliver on the EU-wide goal.
The new package of measures from the Committee also included proposals to ensure renewables policies and support mechanism are "stable and predictable" and amendments to legislative proposals to make sure consumers who generate clean power onsite and make use of storage systems are not penalised by fees and taxes.
In addition, the Committee proposed that member states review barriers to onsite renewables deployment and the formation of community-backed renewables projects.
The proposals will now be considered by the wider European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council of member states as the bloc seeks to finalise its energy and climate package for the post-2020 period early next year.
José Blanco Lopez (S&D, ES), rapporteur for the renewables file, said it was now clear the bloc had to step up the pace of renewables deployment.
"Europe needs to do more, Europe needs more ambition in renewables to meet the Paris commitments, combat climate change and lead the energy transition," he said. "The Industry and Energy Committee, through a very broad majority, defends raising the binding target for renewables at EU level from 27 per cent to 35 per cent, to enshrine self-consumption as a right, to give security and certainty to investors and to increase the ambition in the decarbonisation of transport and heating and cooling sectors."
The votes were broadly welcomed by green business groups. Energy efficiency group EuroACE said the votes sent a "strong signal ahead of negotiations with a feet-dragging Council, which is reluctant to commit to any target, even if energy efficiency actions, especially in buildings, are a true engine for jobs and growth".
"It is reassuring to see the MEPs committed to a binding 40 per cent energy efficiency target for 2030, as well as binding national targets in that matter," said Adrian Joyce, secretary general of EuroACE.
Jan te Bos, director general of Eurima, the trade body for European insulation manufacturers, said the proposals could deliver a sizeable boost to EU decarbonisation efforts.
"Today's positive outcome is illustrative of the fact that 76 per cent of our efforts towards COP21 must come from energy efficiency, and that Members of the Parliament are willing and ready to take on leadership," he said.
The vote came as the significance of the EU's climate targets was again underlined through an update from Ireland's Environmental Protection Agency.
The watchdog indicated that the country is at risk of fines of more than €450m as it is currently off track to meet binding emissions targets for 2020.
It said Ireland's emissions rose 3.5 per cent last year on the back of rising emissions from the dairy, energy and transport sectors. The increase marks the second year in succession that emissions have risen and means Ireland is one of just a few EU states that is on track to miss its 2020 emissions goal.
The debate over the next wave of emissions, renewables, and efficiency targets will continue in Brussels. But it is clear that there is growing pressure for a more ambitious set of goals, which means that unless European governments act swiftly more of them could find themselves facing the risk of fines.
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