The Europeans are on the move. Building on the successes of their existing “20/20/20” plan, they are moving onward and upward. The old plan called for a 20% reduction of greenhouse gases economy-wide in the EU from 1990 levels by the year 2020. They are far advanced on this track. According to the EU here: “While EU GDP grew by 45% between 1990 and 2011, total greenhouse gas emissions from today’s 28 Member States – including emissions from international aviation, which are covered by the EU’s unilateral commitment – were 16.9% below the 1990 level in 2011 and an estimated 18% below 1990 in 2012. Member states’ latest projections show that total emissions in 2020, including international aviation, will be 21% below the 1990 level.”
The new plan ups the ante to a 40% reduction by 2030. The prestigious Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research estimates that this can be achieved at moderate cost. An EU release quotes European Commission President José Manuel Barroso: “It is in the EU’s interest to build a job-rich economy that is less dependent on imported energy through increased efficiency and greater reliance on domestically produced clean energy.”
Many advocates for renewables thought the Commission plan was weak. It had a 27% renewables target for 2030 for the whole bloc, but nothing binding for individual states. The European Parliament voted last week for a package that went beyond the Commission’s recommendations: 30% for renewables and mandatory national targets. They also voted for a 40% increase in energy efficiency. The Guardian explains here that these votes are not binding on the member states which will meet in March to iron out the final plan. The EU does have a complex political framework.
The question of a binding number for renewables is quite contentious. The Guardian quotes a staffer at the European Wind Energy Association: “…this enlightened result is a kick in the teeth for the European commission and its bloodless 2030 proposal last month.” Ouch. But one savvy environmental economist, Robert Stavins, has argued that binding renewable energy targets are counterproductive to the primary goal of cost-effective GHG reductions. At the heart of the EU plan is the emissions trading system. Stavins says, in short, that the efficiency of the EU ETS will be seriously undercut by mandating production numbers for renewables. You can read his analysis here. Another, perhaps more easily accessible take on why the targets are an impediment to the primary goal of reducing emissions can be read here. It’s from Assaad Razzouk, a clean energy investor.
The bottom line, it seems to me, is that the EU is completely committed to getting its economy to be fully productive for its citizens while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gases. Here is EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard explaining the package. One fact she notes is that the EU pays €1 billion a day for imported fossil fuels.