EU hails hat-trick of climate policy victories as renewables targets followed by agreement on energy efficiency goals and long term decarbonisation plans
Late last night the EU took another major step towards delivering a net zero emissions target for the bloc, providing one of the clearest signals yet to governments, investors and businesses that climate policies are set to become considerably more ambitious over the coming decade.
Representatives from the European Commission, Parliament and Council negotiated long into the night over the final details of the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union, with the Parliament and Member States clashing over whether to include an explicit target to deliver a net zero emission economy by 2050.
The Parliament's team of negotiators, led by Claude Turmes, had been pushing for a firm target date and in an interview ahead of the talks the Green MEP had even likened opponents to the target to Donald Trump. "The governments who are against net-zero emissions are the same who signed up to the Paris Agreement," he told Euractiv. "Prime Ministers want to side-line Mr Trump. So I could put it like that: Anybody who is against net-zero emissions in 2050 basically is in the same camp as Mr Trump."
In the end, the parliament compromised, agreeing to a regulation that instead commits to the EU delivering a net zero emission economy "as early as possible". However, the trade-off resulted in significant new concessions for those who want to see the EU adopt a more ambitious climate strategy.
Specifically, under the new "rule book" the Commission has been tasked with delivering a new strategy by April next year that sets out how the EU could ensure net zero emissions by 2050. The new strategy will have to consider the remaining carbon budget for the bloc in line with the Paris Agreement's goals of keeping temperature increases well below 2C and set out scenarios for delivering net zero emissions by 2050.
Euractiv reported that Commission officials are now expected to work through the summer break to get the strategy completed in time for the next UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, in December.
The final deal may not contain a firm net zero target date, but it ensures the groundwork for such a target will now accelerate. Moreover, the new package includes a raft of new measures that will strengthen the EU's various medium term climate targets for 2030.
For example, it calls on every Member State to prepare a national energy and climate plan for the period from 2021 to 2030, designed to ensure that 2030 climate and energy targets "will be reached in a coherent, collaborative and least-cost way across the EU".
It also co-ordinates the reporting of progress against EU energy and climate targets with the Paris Agreement's five year review periods, in a move that will further intensify pressure on governments to periodically strengthen their decarbonisation strategies as clean tech costs fall.
In addition, the governance package strengthens the bloc's new renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, which had previously been criticised by campaigners for their lack of enforcement mechanisms. Under the new measures interim "trajectory" targets have been set for 2022, 2025, and 2027 to ensure bloc remains on track to gets at least 32 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2030. Similar interim targets were also agreed for energy efficiency goals.
"As soon as a country is not on track, the European Commission can intervene" Turmes told Euractiv, indicating that countries that lag behind the targets will be asked to adopt new policies if necessary.
The late night deal came just hours after negotiators also finalised new energy efficiency targets, committing the bloc to improving energy efficiency by 32.5 per cent by 2030. "This new objective shows the EU's high level of ambition and demonstrates the remarkable pace of change of new technologies and reduced costs through economies of scale," the Commission said. Crucially, the target also includes a 2023 revision clause when the target could be strengthened.
EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Miguel Arias Cañete, hailed the agreements as a major breakthrough for EU decarbonisation efforts. Writing on Twitter he said that when combined with the recently finalised renewables target, yesterday's agreements represented a "hat-trick" of victories.
"For the first time we will have a simplified, robust and transparent Energy Union governance to help us meet our 2030 and longer-term energy and climate targets in an integrated way," he said, adding that the new energy efficiency target would have a major impact on European energy security.
Europe is the largest importer of fossil fuels in the world. Today we put an end to this. A new 32.5% energy efficiency target for 2030. https://t.co/YWpaNydLND 🇪🇺💪 #CleanEnergyEU #ParisAgreement pic.twitter.com/0RiDOCczDX— Miguel Arias Cañete (@MAC_europa) June 19, 2018
And this afternoon, he reportedly went further still, suggesting that the new renewables and energy efficiency targets should allow the EU to increase its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement to a 45 per cent cut on 1990 levels by 2030.
Commission Vice-President for the Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič said the new legislative packages should send clear signals to investors about the direction of the bloc's energy strategy. "With this ambitious agreement on the Energy Union's governance, we put in place its cornerstone," he said. "It will enhance transparency for the benefit of all actors and investors, in particular. It will simplify monitoring and reporting of obligations under the Energy Union, prioritising quality over quantity. And it will help us deliver on promises in the field of energy, climate and beyond."
Cañete struck a similar note, predicting the package would help drive significant new investments. "After agreeing on renewable energy last week, and on energy efficiency yesterday, today's deal is another major delivery in our transition to clean energy," he said. "For the first time we will have an Energy Union Governance, fixed in the European Union rule book, encompassing all sectors of the energy policy and integrating climate policy in line with the Paris Agreement. When finalised by the Member States in their national plans, this will translate into the right investments to modernise the EU economy and energy systems, creating new jobs, lower energy bills for Europeans and reduce costly energy imports to the EU."
He also highlighted the significance of the commitment to deliver a 2050 decarbonisation strategy. "One thing is certain, with the Energy Union governance we have the necessary stepping stone for the preparation of Long-Term Strategy to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that are warming up the planet and changing the climate," he said.
Quentin Genard, senior policy advisor at climate and energy think tank E3G, said the direction of travel for energy and climate policy was clear, even if the pace of decarbonisation would still be determined by the national strategies that member states come forward with. "EU member states just got themselves a brand new rulebook," he said. "Negotiators have agreed on measures that should hold member states accountable for delivering their energy targets. But the regulation is only providing tools: the real test will be in the ambition of the national 2030 plans, the long-term 2050 plans and their respective update in five years' time. On climate, the negotiators put the emphasis on net zero by 2050 at the latest - the only benchmark compatible with the Paris Agreement. This is the next frontier, and everyone should get ready for it."
A handful of Member States may be wary of a net zero emission target and the policies needed to attain it, but the new policy package from Brussels locks in both more effective short term decarbonisation policies and a new strategy for delivering net zero that increases the likelihood of a firm target being adopted in the not too distant future. With German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressing once again yesterday that climate change is a "fact" that the US can't simply ignore, and reiterating that the "German government stands fully behind the Paris climate accord", it seems that the logical consequences of the Paris Treaty are slowly embedding themselves in the EU's energy and climate strategy.
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