OPINION: Christian Kjaer in Brussels

Those who are hoping to see the EU Heads of State agree on targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, renewable energy and energy efficiency at their Summit in Brussels Thursday and Friday this week are likely to be disappointed.

According to a 17 March version of the draft Council conclusions, seen by Recharge, the EU Member States are aiming at “taking a final decision before the end of the year” on a new energy and climate policy framework and use this week’s meeting to agree on procedure and orientation.

We will be well into the second half of 2014 before a policy is likely to be agreed. Europe’s leaders plan to use their June meeting to “take stock of progress made” rather than nailing down overall targets for climate and energy in 2030. The energy and climate discussion has been planned for many months and was initially set for Thursday. It is now likely to be moved to Friday, to make room for a debate about the situation in Ukraine.

On 22 January, the Commission proposed a 27% target for renewables in 2030, binding at EU level but not at national level. The renewables lobbies, supported by the outgoing European Parliament, are hoping to convince Europe’s governments to increase the share to 30%.

The main policy objective of the Commission’s proposal is to rescue its malfunctioning Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). A new governance structure that the Commission publically state should ensure the fulfilment of the EU renewables target was thrown in at the very last minute before publication, according to sources close to the process. Since January, the Commission has tried to convince the public that the new governance structure would ensure investor confidence. The truth is that neither the Member States, nor the Commission itself have any idea about what the proposed structure means in practice.

For this reason, the EU leaders “invites the Council and the Commission to continue work,” especially in relation to the national implications of the proposals on emission reductions and renewable energy, burden sharing between Member States, carbon leakage and energy efficiency.

The draft conclusions do not make any references to the situation in Ukraine – the issue is too sensitive to put in papers that are likely to leak. However, they do state that “efforts to reduce Europe's high gas energy dependency rates should be intensified”. Ecofys, a consultancy, this week published a paper showing that gas imports would be 30% lower than business-as-usual if the 40% GHG reduction target was combined with 30% renewables and energy efficiency. If Europe went for a 45% renewables share in 2030, Europe’s energy imports would be reduced by 100 million tonnes of oil equivalents (Mtoe), compared to the Commission’s proposal. That is about equal to Europe’s current gas imports from Russia.

Out of fear of gas supply disruptions, Europe finds it difficult to send a strong message to President Putin on Ukraine. Many European countries – not least those Eastern European countries, most dependent on Russian fossil fuel – would welcome the day they are no longer held hostage by energy policy. Unfortunately, those countries still do not believe that renewables have the potential that Ecofys does and are likely to miss a perfect – if not the only - opportunity for EU leaders to stand up to Vladimir Putin.

There is still a theoretical chance that the European Heads of State make decisions on targets this week. If they do, however, the renewables industries will not get the 30% target they hope for. Member States have grouped themselves into two major camps – those that want decisions delayed – or abandoned altogether - and those who fight for an early agreement in order for Europe to send a strong message to UN’s next Climate Summit in September. None of these two groups have an increase to 30% renewable energy as their main priority and the issue of national targets for renewables is almost completely off the table.

Most EU countries support the Commission’s proposal for a 40% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2030. Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia are against or want to delay until national impacts have been further analysed. Most Member States support the Commission’s 27% target for renewables with Portugal, Ireland, Luxembourg, Denmark and Germany calling for a target higher than the 27%. France, Spain and Italy are also among the countries likely to support a EU renewable energy target. The UK is opposing EU targets for renewables but is likely to accept it as long as it comes without national targets.

The proponents of renewable energy are speculating whether the Council’s expected failure to agree targets this week is good or bad for renewables. Some believe that 27 birds in the hand are better than 30 in the bushes. Others believe that a delay of the decision increases the chances of gaining, at least, another three percentage-points on the target. However, with the Council’s current draft conclusions, status is that even the 27 birds are out of reach in the short term.

Christian Kjær is a former chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association and founder of Faraday Consult. He is also a member of the Recharge board.