Boost EU 2030 targets, says council

In a leaked document seen by Recharge, the European Council suggests a 30% target for renewables, a targeted cut in greenhouse gas emissions of “at least” 40%, and a 30% energy efficiency goal -- all for 2030.

The targets for renewables and efficiency would be binding at EU level, but neither would be binding at national level or broken down into national targets. In the document, all three targets appear in “hard brackets”, meaning that the figures are still the subject of negotiation between national governments.

The governments have joined the European Parliament’s call for a higher renewables ambition level than the 27% proposed by the European Commission (EC) in January this year, but without sharing the concerns of the parliament, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the renewables industries about the discontinuation of national targets after 2020.

The governments are also well below the energy-efficiency ambition level of the parliament. In its February 2014 resolution, the European Parliament proposed a binding target for renewables of “at least 30%”, to be “implemented by means of individual national targets”. It also proposed a binding efficiency target of 40%, and a binding greenhouse gas reduction target of 40% compared to 1990, both combined with national targets.

It seems that renewables has won three percentage points at the expense of energy efficiency, which follows the logic of (parts of) the EC: an ambitious efficiency target combined with a higher renewables target would make it too hard, politically, to mend the European Emissions Trading Scheme.

The draft council document must be seen as one of the final nails in the coffin that is being prepared for national renewables targets. Without national targets, the ability of the post-2020 renewables framework to meet the EU’s 2030 target crucially depends on the future details of the commission’s promised climate and energy governance system.

As the IEA pointed out last week in its Medium-Term renewable Energy Market Report, “The absence of binding national targets raises questions about how effective the overall EU target can be; more details on the nature of the governance framework overseeing these commitments would thus be critical.”

The IEA’s concern is shared by the European Parliament, which in its February 2014 resolution “expresses its deep concern about the proposals for a new governance structure for the 2030 framework”, while fearing that it may lead to an undermining of the Parliament’s powers as co-legislator.

According to commission calculations, a 30% renewable-energy share would avoid an additional €260bn ($342bn) in fuel costs 2011-30 – €13bn annually - compared to a 27% renewables share. A March 2014 report from consultancy Ecofys estimated that gas imports would be 30% lower than business-as-usual if a 40% greenhouse gas reduction target was combined with 30% renewables and energy efficiency.

If Europe went for a 45% renewables share in 2030, energy imports would be reduced by 100 million tonnes of oil equivalents, compared to the commission’s proposal. That is about equal to Europe’s current gas imports from Russia.

For now, governments seem to have accepted the argument put forward by the European Wind Energy Association, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association and other Brussels-based renewables organisations that a higher renewables target reduces dependency on imported Russian gas.

So it seems, as it happened in 2009 during the 2020 climate and energy framework discussions, that the European renewables industries must again be grateful to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, for contributing to higher renewables ambitions among the 28 nations of the EU.