Overnight negotiations see 2030 renewable energy target bumped up to 32 per cent, as ban on palm oil use in transport confirmed
It's not often the EU surprises with a last-minute breakthrough agreement, but last night was one of those nights.
Negotiators wrangled long into the evening over the final draft of the Renewable Energy Directive, but in the small hours of yesterday morning lawmakers agreed a legally binding target for renewable energy to command a 32 per cent share of the bloc's energy mix by 2030.
The original goal in the legislation was drafted at 27 per cent, but a group of countries, including Spain, Portugal and Italy, had pushed for a bolder 35 per cent target, following fresh evidence that plummeting renewables costs could benefit the EU economy. Supporters of a higher target argued it would support the EU's proposed adoption of a net zero emissions target for 2050, while mobilising billions of Euros of investment in increasingly competitive green power, heating and transport technologies. Trade body WindEurope calculated that the difference between the 27 per cent and the 35 per cent target would amount to €92bn of investments in wind energy alone.
However, the push for a 35 per cent target faced resistance. Germany warned the bloc must set targets that are "credible" and "achievable", declaring it would block any renewables target above 32 per cent. However, negotiators were able to agree a last-minute compromise for a 32 per cent target and an "upward review clause" by 2023 - a move that campaigners hope will result in a bolder target being adopted in the early 2020s as renewables costs continue to fall.
Despite the last-minute disagreements, the EU's climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said the final deal represented a "hard-won victory in our efforts to unlock the true potential of Europe's clean energy transition".
Deal! New 32% renewables target for 2030. Renewables are good for Europe, and today, Europe is good at renewables. This deal is a hard-won victory in our efforts to unlock the true potential of Europe's clean energy transition. Thank you all! #REDII #ParisAgreement #CleanEnergyEU pic.twitter.com/oluzsJ1alm— Miguel Arias Cañete (@MAC_europa) June 14, 2018
But campaigners questioned how the new targets would be enforced and said the agreement does not go far enough to put the EU on a decarbonisation trajectory that is compliant with the Paris Agreement. "EU decision-makers have agreed a paltry 32 per cent target for renewable energy that is inadequate for a climate-safe fossil-free future, and shows a failure to grasp a shifting energy landscape, including rapidly falling renewables costs," said Molly Walsh, renewable energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.
Campaigners also remain concerned that the new target is an over-arching goal for the whole bloc and does not emulate the previous 2020 energy and climate package by imposing binding renewables goals on member states.
Meanwhile, Wendel Trio, director of campaign group Climate Action Network Europe, urged Member States to view the 32 per cent goal as a "starting line" for a race to higher ambition.
Elsewhere under the Directive, a target for renewable energy in transport was set at 14 per cent by 2030, a goal that will further drive the market for low-emission vehicles. But biofuel producers will have a tougher time in contributing to the goal, after the EU agreed to eliminate use of food-based biofuels such as palm and soybean oils by 2030.
Green transport activists wanted to see the phase-out take place much more quickly, arguing that the agreement effectively gives palm oil producers another decade of operations that they say that contribute to deforestation and higher greenhouse gas emissions. "Chopping down rainforests in Southeast Asia to grow palm oil for 'biofuels' in Europe is completely nonsensical and does nothing to help stop climate change," John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said in a statement. "2030 is still 12 years away. Deforestation is causing havoc with our climate now, and will make iconic animals like the orangutan extinct. The EU should have helped end deforestation by prioritising land for food not fuel."
But biofuel enthusiasts maintain that crop-based fuels can play an important role in helping to cut the carbon emissions from road fleets, particularly for vehicles where electric power is not economically viable.
Meanwhile renewable energy installations designated for "self-consumption" received a boost, with the new package confirming rooftop solar arrays under 25kW will be exempted from grid charges. And the legislation also recognises "renewable energy communities" - a shift campaigners say will boost the ability of citizens to produce, sell, and consume their own energy.
"Citizen energy has won important recognition, with communities gaining new rights to generate, consume and sell energy - this gives people an opportunity to drive a transformation of our energy system, surpassing the bleak expectations of these targetsm," Friends of the Earth's Walsh acknowledged.
The final agreement now needs to be formally approved by the EU parliament and council in coming months.
However, less progress was made last night on energy efficiency, as negotiations on the Energy Efficiency Directive stalled. Under discussion is the headline target, which the European Parliament would like to deliver at least 32.5 per cent energy savings by 2030, but the European Council is reportedly wary of such an ambitious goal.
Cañete called on the Council and the Parliament to "be flexible and seek compromise". "That's the only way for Europe to forge ahead with an ambitious clean energy transition," he said.
Overall, last night saw unexpected, and significant, progress from the EU as it seeks to set out a pathway for further decarbonisation through the 2020s. But now the pressure is on Member States to unlock the log jam over energy efficiency policy and live up to - and hopefully exceed - the bloc's new renewable energy ambitions.
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